World lacrosse legacy in ruins

RANDY RICHMOND -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 1:13 PM ET

The 2006 World Lacrosse Championships were supposed to leave a legacy of lacrosse fields for London, money for local business owners and goodwill about the sport all around.

Instead, the nine-day event in July has left behind a mess of broken deals, unhappy and unpaid businesses, accusations, legal action and a sour taste about Canada's national sport.

Many suppliers are still owed money from the event and at least one, the city of London, has filed a claim in court.

No one seems to know how much the lacrosse championships owe, but even conservative estimates put it at more than $100,000.

In an effort to solve the mess, the manager of the Canadian Lacrosse Association was headed to the city today for a meeting with games organizers.

"This is all going to come to a head this Friday (today)," said David Miriguay. "I am in the dark, too."

The man at the centre of the games, organizer Tim Hobbs, makes no bones about the chances of creditors getting paid.

"I'd like to say 'yes' but I don't know if that will be the case," Hobbs said.

Equally in doubt is the legacy the games were supposed to leave London -- a lacrosse sports field and clubhouse to help develop the sport in the city.

Ironically, the same municipal government Hobbs accuses of ignoring the games gave his organization a 10-year lease, at $3,125 a year, on about 10 hectares of land on Adelaide Street North for that complex. Hobbs has the right to extend it another 20 years.

"I'd hate to see that fall short," Hobbs said, but added, "We need money to do that, obviously."

Hobbs accepted some of the responsibility for the problems, but said a lack of support from the federal and municipal governments and the University of Western Ontario hurt revenues.

It seems unlikely there will be money left for legacy fields, never mind creditors.

"I think it is pretty much everybody involved," said Chris Campbell of Campbell Event Management.

About 40 to 50 affected business operators are all wondering how an international championship could leave them on the sidelines, said Ron Schroeyens of The PA Shop in London.

"I could see it if this was Ed's Lacrosse Championship. But this was the World Lacrosse Championships."

The amounts owed range from "a little" in Campbell's case to a fair chunk of change in the city's case.

- The city is owed $42,000 and has filed a claim in Superior Court seeking the money, city solicitor Geoff Belch said. "That is most of the money," the city charged for rental of fields, he said.

- The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. is owed tens of thousands of dollars, sources said, but CBC spokesperson Jeff Keay declined to comment on the matter.

- The University of Western Ontario is owed about $25,000 for rental of TD Waterhouse stadium for the final games, said Susan Grindrod, associate vice-president of housing. "We haven't taken any action yet," she said.

- The PA Shop, a London company that provided lighting, sound and staging equipment for the opening ceremonies, is owed about $10,000, said Schroeyens. "When it came time to get paid, they just kept stalling," he said.

- CSTT Sports Management International London, which arranged transportation and accommodation for athletes, is owed several thousand dollars, but president Gary Curgin declined to say how much.

- Big Top Tent Rentals is owed about $13,500, said owner Tim Parker.

- The London Free Press is owed about $20,000 for advertising.

- Oxford Builder Supplies, which provided a lot of equipment for free, is owed an unspecified amount for delivery of that gear.

Other business owners in London would not speak about the event, although sources said they, too, were owed money.

Losing money is only one of the reasons local business owners are angry.

They are also upset:

- The event was supported by the city of London and sanctioned by the Canadian Lacrosse Association, yet neither the city nor association can help them get their money back.

- Hobbs has been difficult to reach.

- Hobbs received provincial funding and hired his two sons.

- Eighteen months before the championships began, a local management company offered to manage the event, but was turned down.

- No one seems to worry the businesses are out money.

At the least, the city should review any deal offering land to Hobbs for lacrosse fields, Parker said.

"For the city to give land away and we are owed money . . . that is just shrugging its shoulders and saying it's not their problem."

Hobbs has done nothing yet to default on the legacy agreement, said Ron Sanderson, manager of realty service with the city.

"It is in good standing."

Deals like that and the support from Tourism London suggest the city sanctioned the event, businesses said.

"All these small businesses are getting burned and we did it in good faith," Schroeyens said.

He and others also wonder how the championships received and spent a $147,500 provincial Trillium grant.

"You assume it is backed and run professionally," Schroeyens said.

But it's difficult to find any agency taking responsibility for the privately run event.

Tourism London helped prepare the bid and spent about $5,000 to send three people to Vancouver to support the bid, said general manager John Winston.

Except for helping drum up enthusiasm at other lacrosse meetings, that was the end of the agency's involvement, he said.

"We had no input on the financials. There isn't anything we can do."

That also seems to be the case at the Canadian Lacrosse Association, which sanctioned the games in London.

"We had no control over the games," Miriguay said.

Miriguay said he's taken some of the calls from irate London business owners.

The owners say that's because Hobbs won't call them back.

"This guy is unreachable and untouchable," Schroeyens said. "He made no attempt to contact me or any of the other suppliers to work at payment options."

Many businesses donated services, but charged for others.

Oxford Builder Supplies, for example, gave trailers for office space, generators, compressors and other gear to the championships, vice-president Mike Demelo said.

"The only thing we asked for was the cost of delivering the material," such as fuel and wages.

CSTT Sports Management International London took tens of thousands of dollars off its bill as part of the deal to support the event, Curgin said.

"We basically paid for the Canadian team."

Yet Hobbs still won't pay money owed, he said.

It doesn't matter if the championships made a lot of money or not, Parker said.

"We gave the best price," Parker said. "Don't say if you make a killing, you will pay us this, and if you didn't, you will pay us less.

"I just want my money. I am not out to be vindictive."

Reached at his new business, a video surveillance outfit, Hobbs defended his organization and put some of the blame on lack of government support and at overestimating revenues at some off-site events.

"I was the chair. I will take the credit and I will take the blame."

He also defended hiring his own family members.

Hobbs said he tried to find people willing to work for about $35,000 a year, with 70-hour weeks the norm.

"I asked everybody for three months' volunteer work first."

His two sons, Jeff and Jeremy, were both international lacrosse players with years of post-secondary business education under their belts at the time, he said.

One son made about $70,000 over two years and the other about $35,000 for one year's work.

"Some people have accused me of fraud. People weren't paid a lot of money. I bet you nobody got paid more than a dollar an hour."

Hobbs added he put much of his own money into the event, about $70,000 promoting and organizing.

"We literally begged and borrowed to get it off the ground. Trillium wasn't there for the first year."

Hobbs said he was under the impression the city would pay for opening and closing ceremonies, as well as give him a break on the field rentals.

"It was kind of disappointing."

There was some informal talk about a break on rent, but no formal application, said Kent McVittie, the city's manager of recreation services.

The city charges full rent for playing fields and ice times unless a sports bid is backed by the city and includes that provision from the start, he added.

Hobbs also said he expected the University of Western Ontario would give him a percentage of the money from beer sales and parking for the games at TD Waterhouse stadium.

There never was and never would be a deal to share alcohol revenues, said Western's Grindrod.

"I know he wanted that, but it was the university's liquor licence," she said.

UWO had a deal to share concession revenues, but that depended on Hobbs getting a certain number of athletes to stay on campus, she said.

The university realized Hobbs's expectations were too high and lowered the threshold number.

Even so, Hobbs simply couldn't attract enough athletes to kick-start the revenue-sharing deal, Grindrod said.

Hobbs saved most of his disappointment for the federal government.

"They gave us no support when it is the country's national sport."

Australia's lacrosse federation received $400,000 from its government to run the world games, he said.

"If I had to do it again, I would have got guarantees from the city and federal government."

Insiders said there were more problems than a lack of government support.

It was difficult to get a financial picture throughout the entire event, they said.

The finances remain unclear, Hobbs admitted.

Some vendors and volunteer groups that rented space to sell merchandise have been slow in paying him, Hobbs said.

He's also waiting to figure out GST credits and other finances before figuring out how much money can be paid.

Creditors should know next week how much they'll get, Hobbs said.

"You hate to see anybody fall short."

There are many success stories, Hobbs said.

Restaurant owners reported they were filled for two weeks, coaches and players were impressed with London and the games, he added.

"We went into this with great and honourable intentions."

The problems caused by the World Lacrosse Championships are an anomaly in London's track record for sports events, Winston said.

"We never had a problem like this before, but saying that, every event takes the risk of losing money. At the end of the day, it is the way you manage the event."

Yet even lacrosse enthusiasts agree this event may leave a sour taste about the sport in the mouths of many Londoners.

"It's unfortunate money is owed. I wish they (World Lacrosse Championships organizers) were more forthcoming with information," the lacrosse association's Miriguay said.

"Do I support what has gone on and what is going on? Not at all."


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