So, who won, anyway?

Congratulations, wrote a friend of mine from Europe, on Canada’s hockey gold medal.

I was surprised. Shocked, even. What have I done to deserve congratulations on this momentous occasion?

The answer was simple: nothing. Yes, just like those winning girls and guys, I am Her Majesty’s faithful subject. I use the some kind of passport. But that’s about it, isn’t it?

So, I e-mailed my friend, telling him that if anyone deserves congratulations, it’s those 25 guys, plus their coaches and managers and sundry support staff. Nobody else.

While I was at it, I looked at Team Canada’s roster more closely. While yes, all of them were born in Canada, two of the team’s three goaltenders ply their trade for Canadian-based NHL clubs, and so do two of the team’s eight defencemen. The rest of them are employed by American-based NHL clubs. Of the guys in suits, one works in Canada. Again, the rest of them get their paycheques from their U.S.-based teams. The numbers might be a bit different with the training and support staff, but that’s about it.

It didn’t matter much during the Olympic Games: they were all employed by Hockey Canada on the occasion.

Still, it is an interesting phenomenon: Canada won this medal, Canada won that medal, Canada won this or that number of medals.

Guess what: Canada won not a single medal. Many athletes who were born in Canada and are Canadian citizens won Olympic medals. Either as individuals, or as members of sundry teams. Come to think of it, many of these athletes practice, train, or whatever one decides to call it, anywhere but in Canada. And just as many see competition anywhere but in Canada. Does it make their medals less shiny? Less worthy? Absolutely not. But they are their medals, not Canada’s medals.

Granted, whether the majority of us are aware of it doesn’t matter, but we all have supported their efforts. No, not by cheering. By contributing financially. A huge percentage of the dollars the Canadian Olympic Committee bestows upon those athletes it considers worthy (meaning: medal hopefuls) comes from our pockets. It’s called taxes, and we’re all paying whether we like it or not.

Even the bonuses lavished on those who have actually won medals come from our pockets.

Yet, still, what we did was we paid some gladiators to perform. That does not make us co-owners of their medals.

This is not to say that those who made the Olympic squad or went so far as to win medals didn’t work hard. They had to. You have to work your hardest to make any kind of an impact in competitions as fierce as those that take place in the Olympic Games.

That’s what made it THEIR medals, not ours.

You might have noticed that when an athlete succeeds, most of us would applaud and say that WE won this or that. When an athlete fails to win, we are much more likely to say s/he or they lost.

It is a strange habit that should not make us proud.

It’s all part of the jingoism and nationalism, both dangerous occurrences when tied to athletic competitions of any kind. To quote, yet again, the immortal George Orwell:

I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved. It is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.

See: George Orwell, The Sporting Spirit, an essay published in 1945.

In the days following the Olympic hoopla, we can see talking heads that should know better, creating, for example, tentative rosters for hockey’s Team Canada for the 2018 Olympic Games to take place in South Korea. Who knows whether the NHL will succumb to the pressure again and defy any sound business sense by agreeing to join the scam one more time? Not even the NHL (and its players’ union, the NHLPA) can answer this question yet. The basic pre-condition for creating such fantasy-rosters does not exist. And yet, the hysteria is not about to be cured. In fact, it seems that those who infect us with this dangerous virus are not even aware they are spreading a disease.

In any case, next time, please be more modest, shy and unassuming: you (and I) did not win anything. We might have lost time watching others win, but it was their victories, not ours.

Bless you, eh?


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