The V.I. Raiders cheat, say the Okanagan Sun. The Okanagan Sun whine, say the V.I. Raiders.
What both teams do best is play football – the Raiders (9-0) and the Sun (8-1) will play for a first-place finish in the B.C. Football Conference this Sunday (Oct. 9) in Kelowna. But these days, the Raiders-Sun rivalry has become about more than just football.
One Sun director took personal shots at Raiders president Hadi Abassi, Okie’s GM insulted the city of Nanaimo and this week the Kelowna team advised Nanaimo fans it wouldn’t sell them any grandstand tickets until Friday to ensure Sun fans had the best seats on game day.
“If I was a player and I see how my team is being run by these kind of people, that they’re just snivelling whiners, I don’t think that I’d want to put my helmet on and go risk my body for them,” Abassi said.
The touching-off point came at the BCFC’s transaction deadline, when receiver Mitch Thompson secured his release from the Sun and turned around to sign with the Raiders. The Sun cried foul and filed a grievance over the Raiders’ alleged tampering.
“They like being hated,” said Howie Zaron, Sun general manager. “There isn’t one team in this conference and probably the country that respects them.”
Zaron suggested that his team – and the rest of the league – is at a competitive disadvantage because “if you ask anybody, they’ll all tell you that they think the Nanaimo Raiders are the highest-paid team in the country.”
Sun director Blake Roberts was even more upset at the Raiders.
“Hadi Abassi’s win-at-all-costs mentality, paying players – it’s rumour innuendo but it does go on – is what’s going to kill the BCFC,” he said. “Mr. Abassi will have a whole bunch of rings on his fingers, as he says, one that he wears on his middle finger so that he can point it at the league.”
The Sun have a laundry list of complaints about the Raiders. Aside from the the accusations of tampering and player compensation, Roberts and Zaron also took issue with the Raiders running up the score in games, with Caledonia Park’s field conditions, changerooms, scoreboard and pirate ship, players’ “shank show” chants, the club’s old “Kill ’Em All” T-shirts and even a 2006 game-day program.
Abassi said everything the Raiders do falls within league rules.
“We either find excuses for how come we are losers, or we find some reason to get up in life and answer challenges and win…” he said. “With those people, I wonder how much of it is a smokescreen to blame everything on the Raiders rather than people actually asking them about their own performances.”
Raiders players like to think they’re successful because of their work ethic, but Zaron doesn’t buy that.
“It just bothers me a little bit when you say, ‘Well, we do this and this so much better.’ No, you have Sugar Hadi. It’s just the way it is,” he said. “Let’s be honest, are you going to play in Nanaimo because it’s a beautiful city? Are you going to Nanaimo because the facility’s nice? I’m confused here.”
Abassi said he was disappointed with Zaron insulting the city of Nanaimo.
“It’s authentic, it’s a beautiful city and we love living here…” he said. “Everybody wants to come and live here and play here. Why would you insult a city like that? That’s the part that’s very, very classless and it’s disappointing because that’s not football.”
Ultimately, though, Abassi said if he woke up in the morning and worried about what Roberts and Zaron were saying, he would have issues.
“Like Dr. Phil says, I need to get fixed up if I cared about what those people say.”
GRID BITS … For a preview of the big football game Sunday (Oct. 9), please pick up the next issue of the News Bulletin. That issue will also feature an interview with Raiders receiver Mitch Thompson … The Raiders and Sun will kick off at 1 p.m. at Kelowna’s Apple Bowl stadium. The game will be webcast live at this link.