By Joe Tash
A dispute over the presence of dogs at children’s recreational soccer games in Carmel Valley has raised the hackles of parents and soccer club officials, leading to heated sideline arguments and the cancellation of at least one match at half-time.
Officials with the 2,600-player Del Mar Carmel Valley Soccer Club said this week they are working with the city of San Diego, a parent who has questioned the club’s prohibition on dogs at soccer games, and other experts and entities to work out the dispute.
But if the conflict is not resolved, it could result in additional confrontations and stoppage of play at upcoming games.
At the root of the disagreement is a conflict between city of San Diego regulations which allow dogs at public parks as long as they are on a leash and under control, and club rules which prohibit dogs at any league practice or game.
The on-field arguments have concerned two different parents who brought their dogs to Carmel Creek Park to watch their sons play soccer several times during October. On one occasion, a referee reportedly yelled at one of the parents and told him to remove his dog immediately.
On other occasions, a coach, who is also a referee trainer for the league, argued with the parents on his own team about dogs being too close to the field. At least once, a referee called a game off at half-time when a parent did not remove her dog from the field.
One of the parents, Maureen Stratton, said she believes city law takes precedence over the club’s rules, and that dogs should be allowed if properly restrained.
“I want the harassment to stop and the league to abide by the Municipal Code that’s set up by the public for the taxpayers who pay for the property. It’s real simple, follow the law,” Stratton said. “Don’t bully and harass people to follow your rules that are not in line with law and rules of the park.”
Raffaella Gunay, whose husband and father have also had verbal exchanges with a referee and their team’s coach regarding the presence of their weimaraner dog at the field in recent weeks, takes issue both with the club’s stand on dogs at the park, and what she called bullying behavior by club officials.
“I see it as an infringement on civil liberties,” said Gunay.
City regulations do allow dogs at city parks, said Clay Bingham, a deputy director with San Diego’s Parks and Recreation Department.
If the referee did yell at parents as reported, Bingham said, “That’s not acceptable. Referees don’t confront the public in our parks.”
Dogs aren’t allowed onto playing fields when a game is in progress, or to disturb people at the park or be off-leash, said Bingham. But he said the soccer club doesn’t have the authority to ban dogs from the park.
He said staff from his office would be working with the club and Stratton to work out an acceptable agreement.