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Student athletes storm SFSS board meeting to protest stadium cancellation

Over 70 people showed up from various SFU teams, Student Athlete Advisory Committee

Image Credits: Nathan Ross

On Wednesday, executives from the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) Board of Directors told Ryan Yewchin that he “was quite frankly the only student who had expressed any displeasure” with the stadium aspect of Build SFU being cancelled.

During Thursday’s SFSS board meeting, Yewchin and a horde of student athletes attended to show that wasn’t the case.

Yewchin, a former member of SFU’s wrestling team and a part of the the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), wanted the SFSS to know that their quick decision to scrap the stadium aspect of Build SFU didn’t go unnoticed.

“I think we showed that we made a clear, physical statement to board that there is a great deal of passion surrounding this project and that what they’ve done isn’t OK,” he said. “Their membership does not agree with their decision.”

Athletes from the football, wrestling, and women’s swimming teams, among others, were present in the crowd. Teams such as men’s and women’s soccer expressed their regrets, as they were unable to attend due to training camps.

“[…] what they’ve done isn’t OK. Their membership does not agree with their decision.”

– Ryan Yechin, former SFU wrestler

The athletes filed in at the start of the meeting, which prompted the board to add a discussion item to the agenda about the stadium cancellation. The discussion had been left off the meeting’s agenda following the decision to cancel the multi-million dollar project.

The spokesperson for the group was SFU football player Ante Milanovic-Litre. Milanovic-Litre read a letter on behalf of Olivia Aguiar, the president of SAAC, who was unable to attend the meeting.

In her letter, Aguiar accused the SFSS of “[using student athletes] as a fulcrum to pass the Build projects, to only take the stadium away.” Aguiar’s rationale was that, with the number of students composing the 546 who voted in the 2015 AGM, the student athletes who voted ‘yes’ were what pushed the vote to over 81 percent. The vote needed a 75 percent approval to pass.

Currently, the financials of the the project are not clear, with SFSS and SAAC presenting different information on how much money is or was available, as well as SFU’s role in the discussion. SAAC members wanted to know why the project is being cancelled, rather than renegotiated, as the newly projected $30-million cost is three times higher than the original estimate. This increase in cost reportedly led to the project’s cancellation.

The transparency and communication of the board came under fire repeatedly throughout the discussion. Many athletes in the room said they found out about the cancellation from Facebook, rather than through any direct communication from the SFSS.

“For them to have this lack of transparency regarding issues surrounding the project leading up [to] their decision to cancel it — especially with not a full board, an interim president, it’s cancelled in the dead of summer when people are in August exams or away — it’s just a horrible time for us to try and engage with them,” said Yewchin.  

At one point during the meeting, Build SFU general manager Marc Fontaine was asked if a stadium could be built for the $10 million that was originally allotted. His response was “probably, but it would be a really bad stadium.”

For Milanovic-Litre though, the value is in having a place to play in front of the SFU community.

“We want our families to be at our home. This is where we study, this is where we play, this is who we play for,” said Milanovic-Litre. “When I go to BC Place, the seats aren’t that comfortable for me. When they are saying [that] we’ve got to build comfortable seating — no one is spending the night at the stadium.

“It doesn’t matter what the occasion is, a sporting event usually lasts about three hours. We’re not looking for leather seats.”

He also pointed to the press boxes and the roof as aspects that could be downsized in order for a stadium to be built on a budget.

The SAAC will likely have a presence at the next board meeting on September 1, since the board is aware that they will be attending and can prepare for further discussion.

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