Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Football and Canadian Nationalism
There's been an interesting exchange on the Canadian soccer front, with Jason de Vos and Paul James both writing articles about Canadian players who have chosen to play for other national teams, and Duane Rollins responding in kind.
While this might get me into all sorts of trouble, my own view is that while I am sympathetic to those who are angry at players like Begovic and Lensky for switching national allegiances at this late stage, and for misleading Canada fans over their intended decision, I have trouble accepting that they should play for Canada "no matter what," as in "no matter if the CSA actively supports both them and the national program in a meaningful way or not."
While Rollins admirably calls for restraint and recognition that nothing is cut-and-dried with the national squad, I found this line troublesome: "Canada is worth supporting -- on the pitch and in the stands. And it always will be, regardless of whether it ever wins another game." Really? If players are sent out to play with no support from their governing soccer body, no respect for their development as individual players, no real recognition for their efforts, and given no support to help them win or progress, they should play for that country no matter what? And we as fans should go out and support this team no matter what?
This is, as many ex-pat Brazilians playing for overseas countries will tell you, soccer, a game. I don't think it's appropriate to question a player's patriotism and love of Canada because they choose to play for another country's soccer team, just as I don't think it's appropriate to describe Canadian fans of other countries playing against Canada as "unpatriotic". Are fans who boo their national team after a terrible performance unpatriotic? Is Eduardo Alves da Silva, born and raised in Rio with much of his family still there, an unpatriotic Brazilian because he plays for Croatia? Did Gabriel Agbonlahor completely toss out his Nigerian heritage because he chose to play for England?
As passionate as we are for our own national squad, we're not talking about our armed forces here, and publicly questioning the national pride of these players because they don't want to play soccer for a national federation that doesn't show much care for their development as players, and who also share cultural and familial allegiances with other nations as many Canadians do, strikes me as irresponsible. You can choose not to like them as players because they left your national team in the lurch, but don't question their patriotism. Calling for talented soccer players to sacrifice their own aspirations as players no matter what "for the colours" borders on tabloid-style brow beating.
This sort of thing is going to keep happening, so either we can write anguished prose about only wanting players who "play for pride and the colours" (meanwhile exorting the CSA to go out and get good foreign managerial talent, and rightfully praising Trinidadian national coach Stephen Hart), or we can work toward changing the national infrastructure to better serve the needs of Canada's best soccer-playing talent, and maybe see a few more fans in the stands than the ones who will watch Canada no matter if they ever win a soccer game again. It is, after all, a game: last I checked I had to pay to watch internationals too.
As this is Remembrance Day, a link to a piece I did awhile ago on the terrible toll WWI had on young Canadian soccer players, who kicked a football across the fields of Vimy. It should be remembered these proud Canadians fought under the Red Ensign, a flag featuring symbols from the four provinces, Scotch, French, English, defacing (in the flag sense) the Union Jack. Also to be remembered are the Newfoundlanders who died fighting at Beaumont-Hamel, 1916, a full thirty-three years before these future proud Canadians joined Canada in 1949.