By Jason Menard
The greatest threat to National Unity doesn’t come from the Plains of Abraham or the Oil Sands of Alberta. No, the most divisive force our country faces comes once every four years.
That’s right, forget the Péquistes or those oil-rich Albertans, the cracks in our national mosaic widen each time the World Cup of Soccer rolls around. Those who are proud to call themselves Canadians every other day of their lives shun the Great White North each and every time the world’s best take to the pitch.
Already the rumblings have started. With the recent announcement of the brackets for the 2006 tournament in Germany, people have begun to scan the pools to see where their favourite squads are, and the gentle murmurs now will become a roar when June rolls around. And, although Canada doesn’t find itself in any bracket, not too many people seem to be too broken up about it.
When the World Cup comes about we cease to be a nation of hyphenated Canadians. We become a divided nation of displaced Italians, Brazilians, Portuguese, English, French, and Czechs. We cling tightly to the thinnest threads tying us back to whatever Old Country is taking the field. And we cheer with pride for their victories and lament each loss as a personal defeat.
All this for a sport that, in large part, we don’t really care about. North American soccer leagues struggle annually to attract fans. Club teams in cities across Canada play before almost empty stands, populated only by those whose familial obligations compel them to attend. Yet, schedules are changed, lives are rearranged, and World Cup soccer becomes must-see TV for those who normally wouldn’t know their Tottenham from smoked ham.
So why do many of us cast aside our Canadian identities the moment Italy versus Brazil shows up on the screen? Why, in cities small and large from east to west, do we find people waving other countries’ flags out the windows from their cars every four years? One reason is the fact that Canada’s national soccer program ranks behind such industrialized powerhouse nations such as Guinea, Qatar, and Albania. Before we get too down on ourselves, note that we would be slightly favoured in a match against Burkina Faso. Yes, when your team ranks 87 th in the world it’s hard to get stoked about the home side.
Since there’s no Canadian team to speak of on the global scene, soccer fans are forced to find other reasons for affiliation that extend beyond geography. As such, history becomes the defining factor. My wife, as French-Canadian as she comes, fiercely supports the boys from Brazil – all because of a two-year sojourn living and working in Brasilia.
Yet, for many of these national bandwagon-jumpers the allure of foreign dominance begins and ends with soccer. Rare is the flag-waving Italian-Canadian who will do the same when the field of play moves from the pitch to the ice. When it comes to a sport where we dominate, our national pride returns to the fore.
Which begs the question: are we a nation of front-runners, flipping affiliations depending on which way the victorious wind blows? Are we emotional mercenaries looking to back the winning side so that we’re certain to savour the fruits of victory?
Honestly, we’ll never know until Canada is able to field a national team that can kick its way out of a wet paper bag. Currently a national joke amongst those who cherish the sport, what would happen if we fielded a squad in which we could take pride? And what about if we were ever to ascend to the favourite status? Would those national affiliations continue to fall along the lines to which we’re currently accustomed?
Or would geography trump history? Would the people and nation we are now finally outweigh any ancestral ties we may cling to? Would Canadian soccer fans resemble their hockey brethren on an international stage? We may never know.
I’m a Canadian with both English and French heritage. And, more importantly, I don’t really consider myself a soccer fan. I’m not a weekend warrior watching the feeds from overseas during Championship League play. Yet, I can appreciate the grace and skill of high-level soccer played by elite athletes. I don’t live and die with any win or loss, nor do I have a favourite side in any match. Without the binding nature of ancestral tethers, I’m free to enjoy the games purely for their displays of athleticism and talent – but with no emotional attachment.
Well, at least until Canada fields a team. And, for me at least, I know where my heart will lie.
2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved