Vancouver Island Walking Soccer Alternate’s Rob Jonas (left) and Bob Unwin try to stop Harry Hubbal of UBC Masters. (Michael Briones photo)

B.C.’s first walking soccer tournament no regular walk in the park

Vancouver Island event showcases modified, low-impact version of the world’s most popular sport

The inaugural Canadian Walking Soccer Invitational got off to a running start and ended in a flash.

The first tournament of its kind in British Columbia had six teams coming from Vancouver, Nanaimo, Parksville and Qualicum Beach that competed for fun and honours at Arbutus Meadows in Nanoose Bay on Saturday.

It was by no means a walk in the park as the matches featured passing and scoring techniques, hard kicks, and extreme discipline especially for those who tend to be a bit exuberant and physical, which is not allowed in the non-contact game.

In the end it was the UBC Masters from Vancouver that took home the trophy after beating the home team, Vancouver Island Walking Soccer’s Alternate, 4-0 in the final.

UBC Masters team, which consists of players headed by Harry Hubball, play regular five-a-side soccer. Although not all their members have experience in walking soccer, they were still able to adjust to the game and dominated the tournament.

Hubball, who is a strong supporter of walking soccer, credited organizer Rob Jonas for staging the first tournament of its kind here in BC. He is hoping to see more tournaments like this.

Jonas, who started the first walking soccer league in Canada, wanted to use the tournament as leverage in promoting the sport here in North America. He is pleased that it has garnered the attention of the BC Games Society as it going to be a demonstration sport at the 55+ BC Games in Victoria in 2021.

A lot of the players who took part in the tournament still play regular soccer. But they now find walking soccer to be just as challenging and exciting.

When Bob Unwin first heard about walking soccer, his first impression was, “it’s for wimps.” But he changed his tone after playing it once.

READ MORE: Parksville Qualicum Beach seniors get a kick out of ‘walking soccer’

“It is very hard and it’s a great workout,” said Unwin. “It also teaches you skills. I am learning how to walk. That’s the skill.”

Ken Wright, who still represents Zone 2 at the 55+ BC Games, said it was curiosity that got him to start playing walking soccer.

“I Googled it and learned more about it,” said Wright. “In Europe, it’s very, very big. They have a Walking Soccer World Cup now.”

Wright said it’s difficult to convince people to play modified version of soccer because of the walking connotation attached to it.

“When I tell people to come and try it out, a lot of them say they’re not ready for walking soccer yet,” said Wright. “Of course they don’t know anything about it. It’s just a typical reaction.

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s good workout because you have to take many steps to get to an area or after the ball.”

Wright is already planning to play seven-a-side soccer in the 2021 55+ BC Games but is now contemplating switching to walking soccer.

For Laurie Miller, this was her first time to referee a walking soccer tournament. She still officiates regular soccer games but is learning more about the technical aspects of walking soccer, which she is extremely thrilled about.

“It’s a good sport players like me as it prolongs the opportunity for people who are passionate about the game to continue to play well into their golden years,” said Miller, who believes in modifying games. “This opens up the door to keep a lot of people in the game who might otherwise opt out.”

What Miller wants to see happen is to open the opportunity for women to take part in the sport.

“It should come from the top, FIFA (the world governing body of soccer),” said Miller. “In the things displayed there, not a woman is in the picture. We don’t exist. I passionately believe that people forget about women in sport. This should be a co-ed sport.”

Miller, Unwin and Wright all agreed that they would help support the promotion of walking soccer. Miller, who also coaches Special Olympics, said she would be advising other coaches to try walking soccer.

“It is a perfect sport for Special Olympics,” said Miller.

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