Sports  On hockey and hegemony

Canadian insecurity even bleeds into the hockey world

One of the reasons I came to McGill was to live in Canada. I pictured Canada as a sort of left wing paradise, my escape from Bush’s America to a land of partially subsidized education (which also helped the decision), universal health care, and hockey.

In one of my first days at McGill, a fellow student asked me where I was from. After hearing my answer, she told some convoluted story about how she had to wear a Canadian flag on her backpack during a trip to Kenya to avoid being shot at for “being American.” I called bullshit on that, reminding her that the Harper government had not exactly worked wonders for Canadian credibility in the world. In response, she proudly showed me her tattoo – a maple leaf with “Made in Canada” emblazoned beneath it. I quipped that it should have read, “Made in Canada, exported to the United States along with the other 85 per cent of our economy,” before excusing myself from the incredibly stupid conversation.

From the militia myth to the Avro Arrow (look these up if you’re unfamiliar), much of the foundation in Canada’s sense of national identity stems from an uneasy relationship with the hegemon to the south. As a result, any arena in which Canadians exhibit superiority over Americans seems to attain near-mythic status in national discourse. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the development of what I like to call “Canadian hockey chauvinism.” From the constant references to “our” game to the fact that a different nation’s victory is considered a national disaster, Canadian hockey chauvinism – on top of being annoying – is actually socially destructive.

For this reason, I would like nothing more than the Canadian men’s hockey team to fail to win Olympic gold.

It is not merely because I am a bitter American. I take pleasure from Canada losing because of the sense of entitlement that Canadians seem to feel toward winning. Since NHL players started competing in international tournaments, I cannot remember a single competition where Canadians were not the favourites – at worst, they shared the distinction with the Russians.

But it’s not the team. It is the fans. Much like the girl from freshman year, my debates over the sport have often ended with my Canadian friends rejecting my arguments on the logic that my American-ness necessarily precludes me from any knowledgeable insights. Never mind that I played the sport for 10 years or that I stupidly devote way too much of my time to analyzing rosters and match-ups – I often forget I forfeited my hockey credibility at the border.

But the ideology behind Canadian hockey chauvinism transcends the rink. It is found in Canadians who are content with simply “not being American,” even while Parliament is prorogued by a minority government for the second time in as many years and casualties mount in an unwinnable war.

I am not unappreciative of the opportunities I’ve found in Canada. I love spending $700 a year for health care. Paying less than half the tuition of an equivalent school in the States is great. But I’m also given the opportunity to watch a great people walk blindly into the night, content to be co-opted by a reasonable standard of living and hockey medals while their government regresses both internationally and domestically.

Canada doesn’t deserve to win the gold solely on the merit of not-being-America. Regardless of not-being-America, it is still classless to boo the anthems and the 17-year-old kids representing their countries at the World Juniors competition. Canada doesn’t deserve to win just because it’s the best hockey team in the world or has the strongest tradition of winning.

I am tired of hearing Canadians rant about America while their own government obstructs climate change legislation, rolls back democratic institutions, leaves its citizens to be tortured in Guantánimo, and grants asylum to unemployed Afrikaans while sending Mexican women back to be raped and murdered.

I should mention that I am not supportive of American hegemony in either hockey or the real world. I am painfully familiar with the failings of my own government, both domestically and internationally, as well as the sting of America losing the gold medal to Canada on American soil. But when I look to hockey for an escape from the malaise induced by the state of the world, nothing kills the mood more than the boisterous Canadian kicking up more of a stir about a hockey game than the recent actions of their government.

I would be lying if I said this article wasn’t deliberately provocative. But it is ridiculous that a stupid column on sports would provoke more uproar than the outrageous stories reported every day on the current state of affairs. I’ll tell you what. If I were one of Don Cherry’s “hockey gods,” Canada could win the gold, but afterward it would have to get back on track to living up to its self-professed traditions of humanitarian, moral, and political progressiveness. But I fear that ultimately, the Olympics will be just another distraction, another reason to prorogue, another reason to root for what is becoming an unrecognizable Canada.