(Crosby won Men’s Ice Hockey gold for Canada in OT against USA in 2010, video via LaughingGIF.com)
CMNS324 – E105
Canadian national pride and nationalism have not, in recent decades, been easy terms to define. As a country that is not considered a nation-state, Canada is often found as a country that is tough to bind together using a singular image, and by asking two people what a Canadian is, there could easily be two drastically different answers. In the media, however, there is no easier way to plant ideas of nation pride or even nationalism into the country’s social discourse and collective consciousness than during the Winter Olympics. Although Andre De Grasse and Penny Oleksiak gave the country feelings of being able to compete at the summer games in Rio, Canada has predominantly considered itself a competitor in winter sports. Thus, there is far more pressure sewn into the Canadian discourse of the winter games, where the successes and failures are magnified. According to Billings et al, (2013, “From Pride To Smugness”, p. 914) coverage of large sporting events are used to create large scale stories and ideas about a country. News coverage uses “us and them” narratives to separate Canada, either in skill, dedication, or character traits, from their opponents. They also frame Canadian athletes as super-human or heroes, who are the pinnacle of Canada. Meanwhile, Cho (2009) says that “sporting nationalism fosters an emotional, expressive attachment to the nation and often elicits voluntary patriotism” (p. 349) while Hua and Tan (2012) discuss how sports journalism attempts to reflect perceived truths and work off of what are believed to be uniform social values (p. 549). However, historically speaking, attempting to break borders and barriers in sport is inherently difficult. As discussed in class’s first lecture, sports clubs were created by the rich, for the rich, as were the Olympics, and are often created and reproduced in ways that set up boundaries based such as sex, gender, race, and nationality (Szto, Personal Communication, Week 1). The first Olympics to resemble the modern Games, according to a film from lecture were the Berlin 1936 Olympics, which were surrounded in ideas of nationalism (Szto, Commodified Nationalism). From Alex Bilodeau’s first gold on home soil to Crosby’s golden goal; these are what the country will reference most in sporting discussions. This post will look at Canadian coverage of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics to examine how portrayals of the events are created to mirror Canadian values and instill national pride. Clearly, Canadian media coverage frames Canadian athletes, and their journeys, as heroes, separating them from opponents using “us and them” narratives, while also framing opposing athletes as superstars when it helps distract from not being victorious in order to encourage feelings of national pride, or even nationalism, in winter Olympic coverage.
(Alexandre Bilodeau won Canada’s first-ever gold on home soil in Vancouver. Image via OurCanadianContent.wordpress.com)
An article from February 26th, 2010 by Allen Cameron in the Vancouver Sun used an “us and them” narrative, as well as a strong focus on his personal journey to frame Canadian Men’s Curling team captain Kevin Martin as the quintessential image of Canadian traits of perseverance, drive, and humility. Hua and Tan (2012) found that in places that value individualism, success is explained as a matter of personal traits (p. 550) This is clearly demonstrated as the article focused on his journey back from losing the gold medal match to the Norwegian team in the 2002 games, using quotes about his journey and hard work, such as “It was a lot of hard work, the last three-and-a-half years” also stating that they would not skip their practice time before the gold medal match because “Martin has put too much time, too much effort, and yes, too much money into getting this team – formed before the 2006-07 season – back to the brink of Olympic gold”. This places much of the focus of success squarely on Martin, and his team’s perseverance and hard work over the years to return to the gold match.
Further, in discussing the semi-final, Cameron notes that Martin’s team made a “terrific hit-and-roll” and that Sweden “tried a near-impossible triple takeout”. This frames Canada’s victory as simply being of greater skill than the Swedes, but also frames the Swedes in an arrogant light, for attempting the impossible shot, which, of course, the Canadians are then the foil of. The article closed by reiterating the team’s work ethic and how they want to win for each other. This portrays the team as being representative of Canadian ideals of hard work, perseverance, and selflessness. A positive question to ask may be, how does one get past ideas of “us vs them” in Olympic sport, and enjoy it simply for its entertainment value?
Prior to the start of the 2010 games, an article by James Christie was published in The Globe and Mail which touted how far Canada’s Olympic squad had come from the last Canadian held games in Calgary. The article touts that the team would have a higher contingent of women than had ever been included in the Olympic team, “faces that reflect Canada’s multicultural background, more athletes who trained and were developed in Western Canada” (Christie, 2010). This is significant because according to Billings, Brown, and Brown (2013, “5355 Hours”, p. 582), people often determine whose “side” they are on, or who to cheer for or against based on geographic borders, without actually knowing an athlete, thus creating an imagined political community. Therefore, by describing the Olympic team this way, the article highlights popularly espouses values of Canada, including celebration of diversity and inclusion, framing the Canadian team as representative of the nation as a whole. The article also discusses the boost in funding from the federal government in the years leading up to the games which frames the Canadian state as a central figure in the fuelling of national pride, which is important, as Compton (2013) states that “The state and national branding play a large role in mega-events and spectacles” (p. 50). This role of the state in creating national pride was enforced by the name of the program “Own The Podium”, which infers national dominance of sport. The article also discusses that Canada would “welcome the world with a winner’s confidence – maybe a little arrogance and swagger that has rarely been seen in Canadian athletes” (Christie, 2010). This phrase pushes the previously mentioned embodiment of Canadian values, such as humility, through Canadian athletes. A little bit of “arrogance” or “swagger” are traits, in Canada, often related to American athletes instead, regardless of whether it is objectively true. This is interesting, as Jackson (2004) argued that historically, Canadian identity has been constructed both in relationship to, and often in an attempt to be separate from the Americans (p. 124). However, this would indicate that, as part of national pride, it is acceptable to be a little bit “arrogant” in the belief that Canada could dominate the games on the world stage. Is this just having confidence in Canada’s sporting ability, or is it hypocritical, considering how Canadians view themselves in relationship to Americans?
Also prior to the start of the games, Sportsnet Pacific aired a short clip in which then Vancouver Canucks goalie and Team Canada Olympian Roberto Luongo was given the first tour of Molson Canadian Hockey House which was said to “play home to Canadian athletes and their families” (Sportsnet, 2010). Roberto Luongo pointed out the importance that “we all get to live it together, and that’s, I think, the whole point behind it. It’s always been family first when I’ve played for team Canada” (Sportsnet, 2010). The project director of the venue reiterated the importance of the venue for communal togetherness and “celebrating Canadian hockey”. Jiang (2013) said that “When reading newspapers, people can engage in national discourse, think of shared experiences, and imagine themselves as a national community” (p. 891). Even though the piece is not in a newspaper, the content, using Luongo as a spokesperson, promotes values that are often important to Canadians, including family and togetherness, advertising the venue as an embodiment of that value of communal, even national togetherness, created by the athletes, the state, and the branded location of “Molson Canadian Hockey House”. Was this venue truly as important as it was made to sound, or was it simply a shiny “national pride” gimmick to distract from less attractive issues nationwide?
As Canada’s official broadcaster for the 2010 Olympics, CTV aired a number of commercials showcasing Canadian athletes. One of which included skater Patrick Chan, in which, again, he is described, through his training facility as athletic, having inner strength, discipline, and being focused (CTV, 2009). Again, Chan is aligned with traits that are considered as those of an exemplary Canadian, the ideal citizen. This is because, as Jiang (2013) explains that in the Olympics, “us vs them” narratives help create national identity and that, in victory, athletes come to be seen as the personification of their countries (p. 891), and thus, as a national champion, through the way he is described, Chan becomes an embodiment of the characteristics of an ideal Canadian. Further, Jackson (2014, p. 901) says that the concept of “nation building” the globalized age now includes the idea of making the nation into a “brand”. At the time of the ad, Patrick Chan was still a relatively fresh face in the national sport spotlight. Therefore, the attributes that the advertising attaches to Chan, a young, talented figure skater, who also happens to be a visible minority is used as a symbol of a driven, hardworking, focused, diverse Canada, and thus, is used as part of an effort to re-state a national brand.
Even long after the 2010 Winter Olympics had come to a close, references to Canadian athletes, often as heroes and national icons, continues. In November of 2010, Sean Fitz-Gerald wrote an article in the Vancouver Sun about 2010 Canadian Olympian and NHL defenseman Shea Weber, regarding his slap shot. The article title refers to his shot as “mythical” while the article makes reference to a moment during the Olympics in which it “ripped through an Olympic hockey net this year, leaving behind what one news agency described as ‘scorch marks’ on the mesh” (Fitz-Gerald, 2010). Jiang (2013) said that news stories about Chinese athletes at the 2008 Olympic Games often centered on themes of being popular in the entertainment industry, emerging from poverty to become rich, or being a national hero (p. 894-895). By framing Weber’s shot as mythical and referencing a particular moment in time, the article continues to use the concept of national pride to bind together those witnessed the moment on the international stage, making it a shared moment of pride in time.
While the Olympic Games can be great fun to watch, the media plays a large role in the way that the events and the athletes are portrayed. In Canada, specifically, a place where Canadian identity and pride can be so fluid, the coverage of the Olympic Games can have an impact on the way the country, its values, and its successes are viewed. The Olympics, especially the Winter Games in Canada, are an event in which the media, the state, and the cultural landscape of the country have a tremendous stake. The only way in which the current attitude in media coverage could be changed would be if either athletes were no longer representative of countries at the Olympics, or if news coverage of the events were to stay away from language that creates “us and them” storylines. However, such a large scale change may be considered far too difficult of an overhaul, and too large to ever be implemented. In the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, and since their passing, in reference, the media has used “us and them” narratives, as well as grand portrayals of Canadian athletes to cover the games, tuning into the closely held values of a nation in order to write marketable stories.
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Cameron, A. (2010, February 26). Martin wants to be lord of the rings; Canadian team focused on brushing 2002 gold-medal final loss into the shadows. The Vancouver Sun, p. D7. Retrieved April 2, 2018, from https://global-factiva-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/ha/default.aspx#./!?&_suid=152320335525906023454680939477.
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