A junior-age water polo player who was photographed trying to light a cloth sticking out of the gas tank of a police car during the hockey riots in Vancouver faces a two-year ban in Canada. But Nathan Kotylak has already won a spot on the squad of a California junior college.
Water Polo Canada announced Tuesday that it had imposed a two-year suspension on Mr. Kotylak, 18, of Maple Ridge, B.C., for his actions June 15 after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup final. The ban from national team activities and from Sport Canada financial aid prevent the athlete's participation in national team activities – at least until June, 2013. He also has been ordered to repay any athlete assistance funding from Sport Canada received after June 16.
But a CTV report in B.C. says Mr. Kotylak won't be idle. He is listed on the men's water polo team roster at West Valley College in Saratoga, Calif. Head coach Bruce Watson said his staff is aware of Mr. Kotylak's participation in the riot.
"It was a consideration but after meeting with him and talking to him and his parents, we thought it was only right to give someone a second chance," Mr. Watson said in a CTV interview. "My guess is he got caught up in the moment being rambunctious and young, but that hasn't been reflected by anything that's gone on here."
Mr. Kotylak has not been charged by Vancouver police. He is easily identified in YouTube videos, and his lawyer Bart Findlay did not dispute his participation in riot activities – fanning a garbage bin fire, then trying to set the police car alight with the rag in the gas tank and tossing a piece of burning paper in the front seat. A Water Polo Canada investigation indicates that a "good citizen" prevented Mr. Kotylak from doing so.
The car was destroyed nonetheless, and the teen athlete turned himself in to police. He issued a tearful public apology, and said he took full responsibility for his actions. There were anonymous threats, however, and his family briefly left its home after the address was published online.
"There is no excuse for my behaviour. It does not reflect the values that my family and community raised me to live by," Mr. Kotylak said then.
Ahmed El-Awadi, executive director of Water Polo Canada, said of the ban: "The message is you're an athlete and you're representing Canada all the time whether you're on the field of play or you're out at a restaurant or in the general public."
The investigation into Mr. Kotylak's actions on the night of June 15 concluded that he got separated from his friends, and received a phone call from his parents advising him to leave the teeming and trouble-filled downtown Vancouver area. But he was got turned away from a jammed SkyTrain by police.
The investigation found that Mr. Kotylak hadn't been drinking or using drugs, yet he engaged in behaviours which put him afoul of Water Polo Canada's code of conduct for athletes, Mr. El-Awadi said.
Clinical psychologist Robert Ley, who was hired by Mr. Kotylak's family, said the actions were not typical of the teenager. The psychologist's best explanation for the behaviour, the nine-page disciplinary report said, was that others were being cheered on for anti-social acts and Mr. Kotylak got swept up in seeking crowd approval.
"I can't speculate on what Nathan was thinking," Mr. El-Awadi said as he met the media in Ottawa. "The reality is he made a huge error in judgment. That's why we're here."
A disciplinary panel revoked Mr. Kotylak's membership in Water Polo Canada for a year. He can apply for reinstatement as a recreational player in June of 2012, Mr. El-Awadi said, but the application to be part of a national team will require the two-year wait.
The parties involved have 10 days to appeal the decision.
"Overall, we're satisfied with the ruling and the sanctions imposed," Mr. El-Awadi said. "These are formidable punishments considering the age of the athlete but, in our view, they are fully justified given the seriousness of the situation and the potential to dishonour and discredit our organization, our members, and Canadians in general."
The disciplinary panel said Mr. Kotylak's tearful public apology for his actions appeared to show genuine remorse.
He must stay clear of the national team, which trains at the University of Calgary. West Valley is a junior college west of San Jose, and Mr. Kotylak will have a chance to compete for a school that sends water-polo players to major university teams.