Almost every nation/country has unique elements that distinguish it from other nations in the world. For instance, physical features, languages, currencies, cultures, wildlife, and sports are some of the elements that define countries and distinguish nations from others.
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It is imperative to note that some countries are multicultural and use more than one languages. In such countries, neutral philosophies and concepts such as sports act as unifying factors and are integral aspects of national identities (Watson 2016, Richelieu and Korai 2012, Taylor 2011, Grix and Carmichael 2012).
This paper is based on the thesis that hockey plays a vital role in defining Canada even though it could be replaced by basketball as a defining feature of the national identity. As such, the paper answers two research questions. 1) What role does sport play in defining Canada? 2) Could basketball ever replace hockey as a defining feature of the national identity?
A brief background on issues surrounding the identity crisis in Canada is provided before illustrating the role of sports, especially hockey, in unifying multicultural Canadians. Lastly, recent trends and shifts in Canadian sports are discussed paying key attention to developments pertaining basketball popularity.
Canadians and non-Canadians would consider the topic of national identity an important subject of study since factors that define a country are key in fostering patriotism and creating a sense of belonging while promoting understanding among people from different countries.
Particularly, it is essential to discuss the possible shift from the love of hockey to the popularity of basketball among Canadians. Could the popularity of basketball be another defining factor and consequently increase the identity crisis in the multicultural Canada?
Historically, Canada has been defined by its geographical position and climatic conditions (Dawson 2014). Canada is located in the North and is vulnerable to severest weather conditions, especially during winter. The geographical vulnerability to harsh conditions has historically created a Canadian North with what pundits refer to as northern exceptionalism. The northern exceptionalism shaped a uniqueness that defined Canada (Dawson 2014, Watson 2016, Taylor 2011).
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However, the 18th century witnessed the mass movement of Europeans into Canada. Moreover, Canada continued to open its borders to immigrants, who have learned to live with the harsh conditions (Dawson 2014, Markland 2012).
Currently, Canada is one of the countries that are characterized by multicultural dimensions where people from diverse cultural backgrounds make one nation. As such, Canada is a pluralistic society and, therefore, there is no single way of life that can be termed as the national identity (Markland 2012).
Markland (2012) purported that oftentimes, there are conflicts regarding hyphenated and non-hyphenated identity in Canada and, therefore, it is challenging to establish a consensus on the type of national uniqueness in Canada. Consequently, other Canadians may disregard what some Canadian may consider as a national identity (Markland 2012, Dawson 2014).
The identity crisis witnessed in Canada could be linked to the dissimilar nationalism elements and cultural dynamism. Canada is made up of French speaking and English speaking groups, which have divergent cultural histories (Dawson 2014).
It is imperative to note, however, that the Canadian multicultural dimension is not a hindrance to unified national identity (Markland 2012). Cultural diversity in Canada is just an agent of tension that creates fluctuations in prevailing hegemonic philosophies. Candidly, there exist popular concepts of that define Canada and are dependent on local icons and/or products (Markland 2012, Grix and Carmichael 2012).
The popular concepts originate from Canada, are owned by Canadians, or are highly treasured by Canadians and, therefore, they are acknowledged as agents of national identity (Markland 2012). Some of the products/things, which could be regarded as concepts that define Canada include Canadian wildlife, Canadian beer, Canadian tire money, and hockey related items among others (Markland 2012).
One of the outstanding concepts that define Canada is the love for hockey. Imperatively, the love for hockey among Canadians traverses the multicultural dimensions and is an integral part of national identity (Markland 2012, McKinley 2012).
Sports and National Identity in Canada
As mentioned earlier, Canada is a multicultural nation. As such, Canada cannot rely on ethnical ideologies to get a comprehensive national identity relative to other countries such as Japan, Israel and other countries that have ethnical cultural hegemonies (Grix and Carmichael 2012).
Therefore, sports play critical roles distinguishing Canadians from the rest of societies in the world (Taylor 2011). In fact, Canada parades itself as a sporting nation since its creation in the late 19th century (Grix and Carmichael 2012).
The first and the most important sport that defines Canada is hockey. According to Dawson (2014), “no sport is from its very beginning more unquestionably connected to Canadian national identity as hockey” (29) and, therefore, hockey has stood out among other sports to play significant roles in defining Canada.
For instance, hockey gives Canada a national identity in many aspects. First, hockey is vital in the capturing of the spirit and essence of the Canadian experience in what pundits call the new world. As mentioned earlier, Canada is susceptible to extremely harsh weather and climatic conditions. Nevertheless, the love of hockey defies the inescapably and inhospitably freezing environments and provides a sense of life. In spite of the extremely cold environments, the love of hockey and the associated culture show that Canada is full of life (Dawson 2014, Markland 2012).
Hockey playing brings out the aptitude and skills of Canadians to survive and adapt to their harsh surroundings. Consequently, the most real and the most accurate aspects of the uniqueness of the Canadian spirit are portrayed (Dawson 2014).
The love of hockey has been one of the most resilient cyphers of popular culture for a long time in history. Pundits have likened the love of hockey and the key roles it plays in defining Canada to state organs and broadcasters such as the Canadian Broadcasting Company, and even the Canadian government (Dawson 2014).
It is argued it was not merely coincidental that the onset of playing hockey and the birth of the Canadian federal government were separated by only less than a decade (Dawson 2014). As such, the relationship between the Canadian government and the love of hockey by Canadians is more than just figurative. The two have common historical relationship and continuity since 1867. Therefore, the establishment, growth, and the history of the Canadian federal government cannot be mentioned without giving regard to the most defining pastime winter game.
It would be inaccurate not to mention hockey as a defining factor for Canada since a majority of Canadians watch, play, or fetish the game (Saunders 2014, Markland 2012).
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The leadership and working together among the staff members in hockey federations portray a key characteristic of Canadians. As seen earlier, Canada is made up of people from different regions of the world. Nevertheless, hockey has managed to bring out the tolerance among Canadians (Saunders 2014).
Whenever the national and professional teams hockey teams play, each victory is considered a reaffirmation of the noble values and exceptional qualities that every Canadian would wish to have while the losses portray a contradiction of the national principles (McKinley 2012, Saunders 2014, Taylor 2011).
It is imperative to note that other types of sports still play roles in defining Canada. For instance, sports such as soccer, rugby, athletics, and basketball among other sports significantly bring out the true nature of people of Canada (Richelieu and Korai 2012, Dawson 2014).
Canadian rugby players have been reported to be the identity of the Canadian spirit (Gregory 2011). Although the sport is not considered a mainstream game in Canada, the national team players have attracted a base of fans who rally their support. Perhaps, it is the story and the personality of the participants that make the Canadians identify with their national rugby team.
For instance, Pat Riordan, who is the captain of the national rugby team, works as a carpenter besides playing for a leading the team (Gregory 2011). As such, rugby players are neither pretentious nor overpaid and over-pampered celebrities.
On the contrary, they are determined players who with considerably less professional experience are able to put up a fight against strong opponents. Pundits consider this a true definition of Canadian and a separating element that differentiates Canadian sportspersons from superstars from other countries (Gregory 2011).
The rise to fame of Ben Johnson, a sprinter, in the 1970s and his consequent success portrays an interesting aspect of the challenge of hyphenated and non-hyphenated Canadian identity linked to sports and sportspersons (Shor and Yonay 2010). Johnson was a migrant to Canada in 1976 and was initially known as a Jamaican immigrant. Later, he successfully represented Canada in world athletic fora. Consequently, Johnson was relabeled a Jamaican-Canadian.
More victories resulted in Johnson being referred to as a Canadian (Shor and Yonay 2010). His success in the 1988 Olympic Games was referred to as a true definition of Canadian modesty that could distinguish Canadians from the US who were reported by the media as arrogant and portentous as represented by Lewis (the Johnson competitor).
Nevertheless, Johnson failed a drug test and what followed was the revocation of his Olympic medal. He was then considered not a true defining figure for Canada. As a result, he was no longer referred to as just Canadian but Jamaican-Canadian (Shor and Yonay 2010).
The Rise of Basketball in Canada
The increasing numbers of the youth playing basketball in Canada have been one of the major sporting headlines. It is reported that the youth in Canada are involving themselves in basketball more than the traditional national identifying hockey (Jessop 2013).
The rise of basketball in Canada could be linked to the effects of globalization and the opening of the Canadian border that alleviated the difficulties in immigration. The immigration reforms of the 1970s are linked to the inflow of people from other parts of the world other than Europe. The mass entry of immigrants from countries where basketball is considered either mainstream sport or the most favorite game led to what pundits consider the “renaissance of interest in basketball in Canada” (Jessop 2013, par. 4).
The infrastructure, government support, and the commercialization of basketball have resulted in the drastic increase in its popularity especially among teenagers and the youth. Moreover, professional clubs from Canada have participated with considerable success in the NBA.
Basketball versus Hockey in Defining the Canadian National Identity
Although the love of hockey among Canadians has a relatively longer history than the current popularity of basketball, pundits argue that basketball acceptance, especially among the youth may have implications in the sports definition of Canada. There are those who argue that basketball has the potential of replacing hockey as a defining element of Canadian national identity.
While basketball is gaining popularity, hockey in Canada is facing challenges. Some of the many challenges that hockey faces include immigration, climate change (and the consequent reducing ice), the reducing numbers of backyard rinks, the youth opting to enroll in other sports, and the game becoming too expensive for the majority of Canadians (Martin 2016).
Moreover, other countries have invested in the sport resulting in the Canadian teams facing competition and losing its former glory (Watson 2016). All these issues have resulted in hockey becoming a contestable feature in providing a perfect and unambiguous national identity in Canada (Watson 2016).
Even though some nationalists and patriots from Canada may argue that hockey will forever define Canada, its future as a defining feature is bleak. If the popularity of basketball ball raises further and nothing is done to address the challenges that face hockey, the spirit of Canadians would slowly shift from hockey to basketball.
Nations and countries throughout the world pride themselves in their uniqueness. While many some countries use ethno-political and cultural dimensions to distinguish their identity from others, some use geographical features and wildlife.
Oftentimes, multicultural countries are identified through neutral but unique elements such as sports. For instance, Canada is one of the countries that have used sport as a defining feature since it is made up of people from almost every part of the world having French speaking and English speaking citizens as the majorities.
This paper has discussed the key roles that sports have played in defining Canada. It is apparent that sports, especially hockey are associated with the country’s history and identity. Particularly, sports and sportsmanship have separated Canadians from the rest of the world since sports have successfully portrayed the most real spirit of Canadians while upholding vital values.
Nevertheless, the role of hockey in defining Canada has been contested. It is evident that Canadians no longer love hockey as they did in the past. Many factors, including immigration and the commercialization of the sport are linked to the decline in the love of hockey among Canadians.
The decline in the love of hockey has been increased by the shift of interest, especially among teenagers and the youth, from the game to basketball. Moreover, globalization and migration have drastically increased the popularity of basketball and now more youths are enrolling into basketball teams than in hockey programs.
Consequently, pundits have proposed that basketball may replace hockey in defining Canada. Although they might be right, it is imperatively fascinating to wait and see what the future of the Canadian national identity would be like.
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Grix, Jonathan, and Fiona Carmichael. 2012. “Why do Government Invest in Elite Sports? A polemic.” International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics 4(1): 73-90.
Jessop, Alicia. 2013. How Basketball Overtook Hockey As The Most Popular Youth Sport In Canada. Web.
Markland, Nicole. 2012. “Canadian Fetish.” Undergraduate Arts Journal 5(2).
Martin, Lawrence. 2016. ‘We the North’: How Canada’s preoccupation with hockey has changed. Web.
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