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Canada’s sports identity in flux

Oh Canada, we stand on the pitch for thee!/ marktci via Flickr
Oh Canada, we stand on the pitch for thee!/ marktci via Flickr

Nation’s sporting allegiances shift

If you turn on Canada’s flagship sports networks – as we pause your regularly scheduled writing for a shameless plug: read Konstantin Kharitonov’s article on page four to see which one he thinks is better – you’ll see that hockey is Canada’s sport. The world at large sees us Canucks as puck-chasing obsessives, but is this really true?

Officially, according to the National Sports of Canada Act (and yes, that’s a real piece of debated legislation), Canada’s two main sports are hockey and lacrosse. Care to guess which sport is actually played the most by Canadian youth? Wrong, it’s soccer.

Canada has always claimed its identity as a cultural mosaic, and if you take this statement to be true, then it’s easy to single out sport and its role in furthering the multiculturalism we hold so dear – the fact that we claim to be so inclusionary being flawed is a topic for another column.

First of all, changing demographics and off-field concerns have made hockey less desirable than it was in years past. Hockey is very expensive and recent concerns surrounding concussions and the aftermath of specializing in a sport when you’re freshly out of diapers has young parents shifting to less expensive and more global games, hence the movement towards the original kind of football.

Speaking of, this country has one of the only professional leagues for football, and yet attendance numbers in its biggest markets often stumble. The Argos moving to a smaller stadium will help, but similar injury concerns will lead to less and less young kids donning football helmets each autumn. Current NFL players have said that they wouldn’t choose football as the sport that they push their kids to play. These are people who know the repercussions of slamming together at the speed of small cars repeatedly.

Among the four major leagues, that leaves MLB and the NBA. We have seen a massive uptick in basketball fans ever since the Raptors actually began to exist as a functioning professional franchise. Canada’s baseball scene has always held a number of gems – Justin Morneau, Joey Votto, Larry Walker, and Jason Bay being the first that come to mind. The success of the Jays will only help raise the profile of the sport north of the border.

So I think it’s fair to say that painting hockey as this country’s only game is reductionist and incredibly unhelpful for its growth as a sporting nation. Wheelchair rugby was created in Manitoba, lacrosse has its origins with the first nations people of North America, and this is to say nothing of sports that our country only cares about every four years cough, fake nationalism when watching the Olympics, cough.

What about the Saskatoon Rush, Saskatchewan’s NLL [National Lacrosse League] franchise? They have created an atmosphere surrounding their season and are currently selling out their games to an audience that wouldn’t have called themselves lacrosse aficionados before buying tickets.

Sure, the Riders and NHL team of choice will remain supreme in this town for the foreseeable future, but how quickly this city has forgotten when the CFL was in serious financial trouble. When the cyclical nature of financial insecurity in professional sport rears its ugly hand once again, then a new sport of choice will have to emerge, and it won’t be hockey or the most painful show on turf.

About John Loeppky

I am an athlete with a writing problem, or a writer with a sports problem, you decide. When I’m not editing, playing wheelchair sports, or advocating for the disabled, you can find me de-stressing with friends.