Where there's smoke, there's ire -- amateur soccer pitches might not be the only outdoor fields where parents are asked to butt out before the big game.

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This article was published 4/5/2010 (4284 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Where there's smoke, there's ire -- amateur soccer pitches might not be the only outdoor fields where parents are asked to butt out before the big game.

On Monday, city council's protection and community services committee voted to recommend a ban on smoking within 50 metres of the sidelines on city-owned soccer fields. Before it goes into effect, the potential ban still needs to percolate through city government, gaining approval next from the executive policy committee, then from council itself.

But even before the bylaw gets the final green light, supporters are already mulling other spots that could go smoke-free. "Why stop at soccer?" mused St. Charles Coun. Grant Nordman. "There's minor football, baseball, slowpitch, T-ball, hockey rinks, lacrosse... Let's make it universal."

You can count health and anti-smoking advocates on board for that plan. "Sports and tobacco just don't mix," said Marshall Wiebe, a spokesman for the Canadian Lung Association's Manitoba division. "It's a role-modelling issue... Lots of people feel they should be able to smoke outdoors. We feel that anywhere in outdoor areas where people are congregating, smoking should be phased out. It's the way of the future."

Smoking is already banned on all school property in Manitoba. Across Canada, other provinces and municipalities are pushing for, or have secured, bans on some types of outdoor space; Nordman calls broader outdoor bans on city property an idea "whose time has come."

But even if a broader ban goes into place before the fall sports season starts up, will it actually work?

Case in point: When the young St. Vital Mustangs football team lines up at Maple Grove Park, Mustangs organizer Paul Nellis isn't just fielding receivers; he's also fielding concerns about puffing parents.

"I don't see how anyone could not support (a ban)," Nellis said. "How do you argue against it? I'm an ex-smoker, and I feel for them, but I deal with complaints of people smoking in the stands. The biggest problem is, how do you enforce it?"

The Mustangs' field sits a stone's-throw from an off-leash dog park, but owners let some pups flagrantly frolic without leashes outside the off-leash zone, in violation of another city bylaw. That doesn't give Nellis cause for confidence that a new anti-smoking regulation will be terribly effective. "You'd hope that common sense would prevail, but that doesn't always happen," Nellis said.

Enforcement won't be easy, Nordman agreed.

At the Winnipeg Youth Soccer Association, which brought the soccer-field ban proposal to council, president Alastair Gillespie said the best thing the bylaw can do is give citizens just cause to ask smokers to stand back.

Now, without a bylaw yet in place, "we don't want to be presumptuous," Gillespie said. "They're a taxpayer just as I am, I don't have the right to tell them what they can do. What we wanted is an opportunity for any of our parents to say 'Excuse me, there's no smoking allowed this close to the sideline, would you mind going over there?'"

Gillespie noted that since his organization brought the proposed soccer-field smoking ban to public attention earlier this year, the group hasn't received a single negative response. "We want to keep this very pleasant," Gillespie said. "Our job is to try and make kids' soccer experience as much fun as possible."



Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.