A recreational soccer team that opted out of a game due to COVID-19 concerns claims it was unfairly fined $200 by league organizers, and then told it couldn't play again until the money was paid.
But Urban Recreation, the company behind the league, says the fine was levied in error in an email that should have never been sent out.
Johnny Murphy, manager of Unbounce Cobra FC, said his team was only trying to abide by the newly announced pandemic restrictions when it asked to cancel its Nov. 11 match at Empire Fields in Vancouver.
"With the current huge rise in COVID cases in B.C. and the new restrictions laid out by our provincial health officer, we as a team decided to not play this week and play it safe," he said, adding that two Cobra players are at higher risk for the virus.
Murphy said he gave Urban Rec plenty of advance notice and even asked to contact the opposing team himself to explain the situation.
But in an exchange of emails the company told Murphy the Cobras were still expected to pay the $200.
"We have been in contact with the various sport agencies and the provincial government and have been cleared to play without issue and while it seems a bit contradictory to the [COVID-19 restriction] update, it was clearly stated that outdoor activities can continue," wrote an Urban Rec employee.
On Nov. 12, the day after the cancelled game, Urban Rec emailed Murphy a request to "settle up the default," so the team could be put back on the schedule.
At the same time, it informed Murphy of a second option: forego the $200 payment by opting out of the remainder of the season with no refund.
"My team [is] literally listening to the guideline set out to us from the powers that be and are being punished for it," Murphy told CBC.
'Simply a mistake'
When reached for comment, Urban Recreation managing partner Steve Lang said Murphy had been sent the wrong email and the entire situation was "simply a mistake."
"He was sent an email in regards to a team that defaults versus an email that would be sent to a team that opts out for COVID-related reasons," said Lang.
Lang said Urban Rec has had a COVID-19 opt out policy in place since July 1.
According to Lang, the policy states if a team wants to opt out of playing because of COVID-19 concerns, it can be removed from the schedule for two weeks without being subjected to the default policy.
The policy does not appear on the company's website, something Lang said was an "oversight."
Murphy said he had never heard of Urban Rec's COVID-19 opt-out policy until the company sent it to him Friday morning, along with an apology.
"They forgot to mention this magical third option [before]," he said. "I appreciate that this has been resolved for my team, but not the lengths it took to get to a resolution."
"There needs to be more flexible and transparent policies, especially during a pandemic, so people can play because they want to and feel safe doing so, not because they feel pressured to play to avoid a $200 fine."
Lang said Urban Recreation is doing the best it can given the challenges of the pandemic.
"An honest mistake was made and we apologize for that and will do whatever we can to rectify it," he said.