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Could international-level women's hockey be coming to region?

City of Barrie has asked IIHF to be host community March 24 to April 5, ahead of main event in Brampton, but not without concerns at council
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Barrie wants to host pre-competition action for this year’s Women’s World Hockey Championships.

By direct motion Wednesday night, city council approved a letter to the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) asking to be a host community March 24 to April 5 ahead of the championships, which will be held in Brampton April 5-16.

“When you look at our proximity to Brampton, I think we’re in pretty good running when it comes to being selected,” said Coun. Gary Harvey. “Bringing elite-level hockey to the area will also help inspire our next generation.” 

“It’s great to put a spotlight on women in sport, and also attract individuals for tourism,” said Coun. Ann-Marie Kungl.

There is a Jan. 25, 2023 deadline for host community applications.

Coun. Jim Harris said he supports the bid, but has reservations about its time constraints.

“This is a world championship, this is significant,” he said. “But roughly two months out and they’re selecting cities to host people from around the world. It’s a disappointment to see it so late.” 

Hockey Canada is seeking proposals from interested communities wanting to act as pre-competition hosts for the championship, with five Ontario communities selected to each host two of the international teams that will spend seven to 10 days there for a pre-competition training camp, along with at least one exhibition game.

The Barrie Women’s Hockey Association (BWHA) is working with the city’s recreation and culture department, Tourism Barrie along with several other community and business partners, to submit a host community proposal to Hockey Canada.

Use of city recreation facilities, including arenas, would be subject to their availability.

“Most of the ice time used, especially for practice sessions, will be during the daytime hours where right now obviously most of these hours the arena would be sitting vacant,” Harvey said.

The BWHA and Tourism Barrie have each committed $5,000 toward hosting activities for the international teams.

Council has also committed a matching contribution of $5,000 to support hosting activities, to be funded from the Municipal Accommodation Tax (MAT) reserve, subject to Hockey Canada’s approval. The MAT is a four per cent levy on room rates at hotels, motels and Airbnb rentals. 

Tourism Barrie is the collection agent, on behalf of the City of Barrie, as the city’s ‘tourism entity’ and receives 50 per cent of the MAT.

Being a pre-competition host community would yield an estimated economic impact of approximately $120,000 according to Ontario Ministry of Tourism estimates, along with provincial, national and international exposure for Barrie, and could also be an important opportunity to showcase this city as a destination for future high-level sports events.

“It’s not a huge financial impact, but when you look at the impact when it comes to moving forward with other bids (for events, it’s significant),” Harvey said. “If we can be successful with a bid of this stature, it starts building some momentum for bigger and better things coming to the Sadlon (Arena) because we do have a nice facility. We’ve got a really nice waterfront community and if we can showcase that internationally it’s only going to help the city.”

Mayor Alex Nuttall said he supported the motion, but is only behind the $5,000 contribution because it comes from the MAT.

“I have a real issue with the use of public funds taken from people who can’t afford to play hockey to allow in this case foreign nationals to come in and use our rinks, and because it’s not in-kind, I am willing to support (it),” he said. “If it was in-kind, if we’re taking money from people who can’t afford to play hockey for people who aren’t even contributing to our community to be able to play on those rinks I have a real issue with that. A real issue with that.”

Nuttall also said Hockey Canada should be paying more of the pre-competition host costs. 

“I think if there was ever a time that Hockey Canada should be stepping up and fully funding women’s hockey, it’s now. It is now,” he said. “And the reality is it should have been a while ago.”

High-profile allegations of group sexual assault in 2018 involving world junior players has led to a nearly complete restructuring of Hockey Canada.

Support from Barrie city council is a requirement of Hockey Canada for any host community proposal to be considered for the 2023 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships.