Policy change is in order

Tennis tournament organizer questions city fees for facilities

For more than a century, tennis players have competed in the Okanagan Valley Labour Day Tennis Championships. The 102nd tournament took place last year, and as always, drew both local and out-of-town players keen to compete in this multi-levelled amateur competition.

The Kalamalka Country Club hosts the event, open to all tennis players, generously making its three courts available as well as running the event with a team of volunteers.  KCC pays a considerable amount of money to Greater Vernon Recreation Services to rent additional courts at Kalvista and Kalamalka Secondary in order to accommodate the large number of matches which take place over four days.

This year, the Kalamalka Country Club is unable to host the event as its courts will be rendered unplayable due to an upcoming revitalization project, expected to be completed by April 2015. A notice was sent out to tennis players explaining the reason for the cancellation of this historic event, disappointing a number of tennis enthusiasts who look forward to the annual competition.

A sheer love of tennis combined with an understanding of the socio-economic benefits of the tournament prompted a discussion to determine if a tournament could still be hosted in Vernon that long weekend, albeit on a smaller scale.  After all, the City of Vernon has some beautiful tennis courts available for public play, and this tournament is an open event.

Studies have examined the benefits of sport participation and conclude that all levels of government have good reason to lend support to sport participation through policies, performance, investment and research.

Benefits include, but are not limited to, the areas of health, social cohesion, skills and economic impact.  Greater Vernon Recreation Services states the importance of “find(ing) a way to make play and physical activity part of your daily life.”

In this context, it is difficult to understand the policy of Greater Vernon Recreation Services of charging for court bookings.  It is virtually impossible to absorb the cost of court reservations when recreation services charge almost $7 per hour per court.

The cost of reserving six courts (Marshall Fields and Paddlewheel Park) is about $42 per hour.  If matches extend to evening hours and require lights, tokens must be purchased in advance from the recreation complex at a cost of $5 plus tax per hour (for two courts). So, in the evening, the cost of renting four courts is about $40 per hour. Remember, the running of the tournament is being done by volunteers. Greater Vernon Recreation Services is simply taking the reservation.

These are courts that are available for public play at no cost during daylight hours.

In the evening, tennis players must have purchased a token in advance. Visitors to Vernon are literally left in the dark because they are unaware of the token system until they arrive at the courts.  Tennis players in Winfield, Kelowna and other communities simply push a button to turn on their lights.

The cost of reserving the courts for three or four days is astronomical, and dissuades participation either through exorbitant entry fees (for playing at a location that offers only a porta-potty in the way of facilities) or by discouraging any eager volunteers from running a tournament for fear of their own out-of-pocket losses.

Kamloops, Burnaby, New Westminster, Surrey and Nelson, as well as other municipalities, provide their public courts and lights free of charge for open tournaments (both sanctioned and non-sanctioned by Tennis B.C.). Some of these tournaments extend over several weekdays and weekends, both daytime and evening.

By drawing attention to what other municipalities provide, and emphasizing the socio-economic benefits of tournaments taking place in Vernon, one hopes that Greater Vernon Recreation Services will revisit the policy of charging such high fees for court reservations. This practice is making it extremely difficult to run tennis tournaments.  Taxpayers and sports enthusiasts deserve much better.

In a discussion with Mayor Rob Sawatzky, he explained that there is no mechanism currently in place to change the policy of charging these fees for court reservations.  In order to do that, a presentation to city council was recommended, and drawing this to the public’s attention by taking our concerns to the media, was discouraged.

The residents of Vernon need to be aware of the policies of recreation services, and lend their voices to affect change so that our recreation facilities are optimally used, and that competitive sport can thrive without unnecessary expense and bureaucracy.

As an aside, any extra money resulting from this tournament (should the court reservation fees been waived or reduced to avoid losses) would have been donated to school programs which provide breakfast to children in need.

The 103rd annual Okanagan Valley Labour Day Tennis Championships should not have had to wait until 2015 to take place. Greater Vernon Recreation Services should support tennis tournaments and amateur competition by significantly reducing or eliminating the reservation fees currently demanded for public tennis courts and lights.

Due to the financial commitment to reserve courts, however, the tournament will have to wait until next year to take place again. The costs are simply too high when public courts are required for all the matches.

The City of Vernon needs to seriously consider its position with respect to the support of organized sports and competition.

Kamloops is known as the tournament capital of Canada. It would be worthwhile to learn from them so that Vernon attracts competitors, boosts tourism, injects dollars into the economy and promotes health and wellness through sport.  With the new athletic facilities being built adjacent to Okanagan College, it will be interesting to see what our representatives do to facilitate optimal use of an expensive project when existing sports facilities are under utilized due to policies that prevent volunteers from organizing tournaments.

What are other sport groups experiencing with Greater Vernon Recreation Services and the City of Vernon?

We need to work together to determine what policies promote sport and the use of the facilities, and what needs to be changed so a tournament that has happened for more than a century doesn’t have to be cancelled because of unreasonable reservation rates for public tennis courts and lights.

Joe McFadden,

Vernon Labour Day Open

director/co-ordinator