03/04/2013 05:14 EST | Updated 05/04/2013 05:12 EDT

Hockey parents and fans said to support raising body-checking age

A large majority of Canadian hockey parents and fans support raising the age when body checking is allowed, which would significantly reduce the number of head and spinal cord injuries in young players, according to the results of a survey released Monday.

The Rick Hansen Institute — a not-for-profit organization that works to research and promote the advancement of treatments for spinal cord injuries in Canada — commissioned Angus Reid Public Opinion who surveyed 2,017 adults with children who play hockey or who are fans of the game.

Currently, the practice is allowed in some areas of the country starting at 11 years of age.

The survey — the first of its kind to features fans and hockey parents — found that 88 per cent would support a national policy that would totally eliminate body checking in hockey for ages 11 and 12.

Also, 80 per cent of those polled thought that playing hockey was good for children, but 87 per cent felt that the sport carries “significant risk” of brain, head and neck injuries.

Many of those polled supported raising the age where body-checking is allowed in the game to 15 years-old. Hockey parents polled were 67 per cent in favour of the change and 79 per cent of hockey fans polled were in favour of the change.

“The safety rules, supported by a strong majority of Canadians to reduce head, neck and spine trauma for the youngest athletes, will not affect the game of hockey, nor the enjoyment of the game for young players,” said Bill Barrable, CEO of the Institute, in a release.

“But, these proposals — backed by growing medical evidence, and some of which are already in place around the world except in Canada — could dramatically reduce sports-related injuries and save Canada’s health care system millions of dollars in emergency, treatment and rehab care.”

The institute said hockey accounts for the most sports-related emergency room visits and said 45 to 86 per cent of those hockey injuries are caused by body checking. It estimates that the annual cost to Canada’s health care system from sport and recreation injuries among children and youth is $2.1 billion.

If body checking was banned for players aged 11 and 12 across Canada, the Rick Hansen Institute estimates that over 9,000 injuries could be prevented annually.

There is no body-checking minimum age requirement set unilaterally across the country. Each league determines its own guidelines on the matter.

The online survey was carried out Feb. 22 to Feb. 26.