I find Panda gave me the chance to partake in a shared experience with my community. Image: Kai Holub/Fulcrum
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The Panda Game is one of the most beloved homecoming events in Ottawa. The game itself draws in thousands of students — both football fans and not — every year. The annual game between city rivals, the U of O Gee-Gees and the Carleton University Ravens, is typically celebrated with food, drinks, and of course, parties. However, the future of this sixty-year tradition could be in danger following the incidents of last year.

The year was 2021.

The previous 2020 Panda Game had been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and both teams were looking to bring Pedro back to their schools after the hiatus. The return of the game, coupled with students having missed out on some key university experiences, meant that many students were determined to make the most of their Panda game.

Thousands of students congregated in Sandy Hill to partake in street parties, and several people were charged for criminal behaviour, including mischief, unlawful assembly, and rioting. The 2021 Panda Game will inevitably be remembered by most as the time students flipped a car.

This prompted local officials to suggest cancelling the 2022 game altogether.

Despite this, the 2022 game did go ahead. And suffice to say that law enforcement, school officials, and Sandy Hill residents did not want a repeat of the events from the previous year.

In the weeks before the highly anticipated game, U of O students received warnings from community leaders, emails from the administration, and even Tik Tok ads warning students to “protect the panda.” They warned that, if students did not refrain from participating in raucous gatherings, underage alcohol consumption, mischief, and/or damaging property, students would not only face legal ramifications, but could also lose the Panda Game for good.

In preparation for any disruption from students, TD place and the Sandy Hill area were crawling with security officials, paramedics, and police officers who stated they had “zero tolerance” for student misbehaviour.

After the Gee-Gees’ landslide victory, Sandy Hill was abuzz. There were street parties just like in previous years, and police issued dozens of tickets and made several arrests, which has left the Ottawa community questioning whether or not students managed to protect the Panda Game.

It’s important to acknowledge that most of the disruptions that occurred during homecoming didn’t actually happen at the Panda Game. The football game is an opportunity for thousands of students and community members in Ottawa to gather, enjoy an exciting game, and show their school spirit.

Personally, I find Panda gave me the chance to partake in a shared experience with my community — a true luxury after two years of doing online school in my bedroom. Despite the rivalry, the game is an example of Ottawa’s ability to congregate, have fun, and support the city’s young athletes.

The real problem lies in the night ‘celebrations,’ which many students take as an opportunity to partake in drinking, smoking, and partying. It’s these gatherings that cause excessive crowding in Sandy Hill and disrupt the residents.

For many students, partying is a typical part of the university experience. Students find reasons to party even without using homecoming as an excuse. This issue could be addressed by educating students about safe ways to party (which did briefly happen at the Game). Another solution may include having local businesses host discounted night events for students — this could limit the number of street parties.

It should also be noted that while an increased police presence may limit crowding, it could also cause anxiety among students, especially members of visible minorities.

While the future of the Panda Game is still uncertain, I certainly hope the fun tradition continues. Even if next year’s game does get cancelled, fans can be comforted by the fact that the Panda game has a history of returning after hiatuses — such as the 15-year gap between the 1998 and 2013 games, and the short gap between 2019 and 2021.