Our View: Surrey Permits For Pickup Soccer Violates Public Rights

– Bill Currie, BC Soccer Web

On Friday, we learned of a disturbing incident involving Surrey RCMP and a local bylaw officer called to a park at Brookside Elementary School to break up a game of pickup soccer. The incident was captured on video by one of the participants and can be seen here.

Their offense was playing pickup soccer in a park without a permit.


Looking at the video, there’s a significant amount of empty park land behind them. They don’t seem to be interfering with anyone else’s use of the park. They also refer to another pickup soccer game happening next to theirs that they claim was not being broken up by the police. While some may say they were arguing with the officers, they certainly were not being beligerent or disrespectful. They simply wanted answers as to why their pickup soccer game needed a permit and why it needed to be shut down by the police.

We made an inquiry regarding the incident to the City of Surrey via Twitter. To their credit, they responded to our questions very quickly. Here is our brief exchange:

@bcsoccerweb : @CityofSurrey… have you banned pickup soccer in all of your parks? If so, why? http://www.cknw.com/2015/07/03/82651/

@CityofSurrey: @bcsoccerweb We encourage residents to get out & play. Permit is for organized & semi-organized groups playing on regular basis.

@bcsoccerweb: @CityofSurrey One more question. What constitutes semi-organized?

@CityofSurrey:  @bcsoccerweb  if for example you have 6 players on either side, wearing pinnies or shirts & cleats, playing 60-90min on a weekly basis (1/2)
@CityofSurrey:  @bcsoccerweb We would encourage you to get a permit. ( 2/2)

@bcsoccerweb: @CityofSurrey Thanks.

A simple Twitter exchange like this may not do complete justice to the entire affair, but the response as to what constitutes a “semi-organized” pickup game is very troubling. Cleats? Pinnies? Meeting up with friends on a weekly basis to play for an hour?

That describes every pickup game I was ever involved in during my 20s and 30s. It’s the same pickup soccer enjoyed by hundreds of people in the lower mainland every day in public parks. For nearly two decades, BC Soccer Web has run free classified ads to help people find pickup games. Pickup soccer is so common, Nike has an app to help you find a game. Our greatest lament isn’t that there’s too much pickup soccer; there’s not enough pickup soccer being “semi-organized” and played by kids! Pickup soccer is one of the fundamental basics that helps people develop some skills and fall in love with the game.

But, it appears that in Surrey, you can’t fall in love without a permit. That’s got be fixed.

Like some others, I’m not writing this to dump on Surrey. Sullivan Heights was my home for seven years. I’ve always defended the city against Vancouver snobs who wouldn’t know the Fraser River if a Sockeye hit them. But, I suggest you look past the incident at hand, and start looking at this as a blanket policy that the City of Surrey has now chosen to enforce.

Cleats, six aside, once-a-week on some public green space now constitutes a permit infraction. Public green space. That’s the land your taxes pay for. That’s the land that over a century ago, some smart mayors or city planners decided that not every property should be owned, farmed or built on. Some land should be set aside for public enjoyment and recreation.

Those mayors and planners didn’t envision large fields that should be left empty and admired for their lushness, waiting to be used only by those who have scheduled an appointment. They were meant for a whole host of public uses, especially soccer. Having cleats or a few friends and family that meet at a regular time every week to kick a ball like the rest of the world does without question is not a privilege. It’s a right. In this incident, that right was clearly violated. And yours could be too if this stands.

For those who cry “We must leave soccer fields pristine for teams and leagues!”, yes. Cities should fence off a small number of soccer fields for high level competitive use. In Metro Vancouver, many of those are artificial, all-weather turf fields. Cloverdale Athletic Park has fantastic grass fields that are properly fenced off and accessible only to those who have paid for the privilege. These should be the exception, not the rule.

And for those who cry “They were interfering with my enjoyment of the park!”, were they really? Wasn’t there another solution? Did this situation not call out for some basic common courtesy, as opposed to calling in two RCMP officers who obviously did not want to be there, and certainly would not want the attention cast on them now simply for doing what they were told. I’ve yet to hear of another Metro Vancouver pickup game in recent years that received that response, let alone warranted it.

There’s laws and there’s common sense. Strictly interpreted, Surrey’s bylaws now prohibit many park uses without a permit. Common sense would dictate that pickup soccer should not be one of them.

Surrey needs to address this very quickly or they’ll be hearing from us in a big way. I hope they’ll also be hearing from you.

Bill Currie
Editor in Chief
BC Soccer Web

Posted in BC Soccer News.