Amateur sport – an election issue

Politics makes for strange bedfellows – even in cricket

The Senator from the Halifax Commons

The securing of the right of citizens to participate in amateur sport and recreation as a basic human right, rather than a policy objective of this or that government, a privilege accorded to the elite, is also one of his election themes.

By SAM MACLEAN

Special to Canada Cricket Online, Posted Monday, January 23, 2006

HALIFAX (19 January 2006) – “It ain’t cricket,” says Tony Seed, Halifax candidate of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada, referring to the unrepresentative party system which he says treats Canadians like voting cattle to be prodded this way and that.

Mr Seed says that electors need to affirm their basic democratic rights to have a real say in the decisions that affect them, and has advanced detailed proposals in that direction during the current federal elections campaign. But, like candidates from the small parties across Canada, his views have been completely excluded from the local media campaign. A handful of powerful media monopolies decide what information Canadians will receive, and who they see as the ‘alternative’. “Such is the violation of the basic right of the elector to an informed vote,” he observed in a recent interview, “carried out with the most casual and brutal indifference.”

Hence Mr Seed’s analogy to cricket, a sport historically associated with fair play and the high ideals of sportsmanship, where opponents will tip their hat and applaud outstanding performances by their opponents.

And that’s another thing Tony Seed, a tall, 6’ 4” all-rounder who speaks slowly and deliberately, reflecting on your question before answering, does know a thing or two about.

Associated in the Nova Scotia amateur sports scene with the motto “Friendship First, Competition Second”, he has been the president of the small but active Nova Scotia Cricket Association (NSCA) over the past 13 years. In 1987 he founded the Maritime Cricket Festival as an annual festival for cricketers from the Maritimes. Teams from Quebec have also occasionally participated. Its motto: “Friendship First, Competition Second.” The tournament is still running.

From Appleby to Calcutta

He became acquainted with the sport at Appleby College in Oakville, Ontario, playing on school teams for four years. He vaguely remembers achieving a century but confesses his memory could be playing tricks on him. He went on to play for Jarvis CI’s championship football team coached by Tom Watt, later coach of the Maple Leafs, and was recruited to play at UWO, Queens and the London Lords in the then-ORFU, a farm league of the CFL. He didn’t play organized sports again until, at the age of 40, he saw a game being played on Halifax’s beautiful Commons. He bought a pair of $20 white duck pants and sneakers, and turned out the following Saturday. A couple of months later he was asked to join the provincial team in a match against New Brunswick.

“We played in Saint John on a grounds in front of the city jail. It was probably the biggest turnout we ever had. The prisoners were all at the windows, watching the game, and we were shouting to them how it was played.

“I was a good fielder, would dive for a ball, have never dropped a catch, touch wood, am a team player, have hit the odd six, but I really can’t bat worth a dam. I’m just too impatient. And I don’t have that skill set you instinctively acquire if you’ve been brought up in the game since you were a young kid.

“But being nominated to play for our province, however small our sport, was a great honour for me. That and winning a best fielding trophy and a man-of-the-match award against Quebec later when I took up keeping. I wanted to be in on every play.

“At the time we had four clubs. I played with Dalhousie and forged an enduring bond with the student youth. They also came up with a nickname, “The Senator.” I used to stress the importance of the laws of the sport, standards, collective discussion on the problems facing us, and the best sporting ideals on the field. If we uphold quality, we will solve the problem of quantity.

“We would go out and have practices in the early morning summer sun, and then take breakfast in one of the student’s rooms in the university residence, Peter Elias, who was from Guyana. Peter now teaches geology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbour. The Iran-Contra hearings in the US Senate on illegal doings of the Reagan administration and its mercenary armies in Central America, in violation even of US law, were being broadcast daily on CNN. The next weekend I was being called ‘The Senator’.” The name stuck.

His Calcutta innings was his greatest performance. “We were playing Quebec one year, when I went in ninth down. Their manager saw this big fellow he had never seen play before in Canadian cricket. He quickly asked Peter as to his background. Peter, completely straight-faced, related a saga about how he was born with a bat in his hand, and had grown up playing cricket in India. ‘Haven’t you heard about his Calcutta innings?,’ Peter asked him incredulously.

The Quebec manager rushed onto the field, frantically waving his fielders to the boundary.

“I played the first ball so weakly they all looked at each other, looked at the manager as if he had gone bonkers, and quickly moved so close-in I felt claustrophobic.

“It was hilarious.

“I managed to drive the second ball right through them.”

Cricket can grow amongst the people, he says, but it must be on the basis of an amateur sport, as a mass sport with ideals and principles, and not as a so-called immigrant’s sport. In the late 1980s he spearheaded a kanga junior cricket program which introduced 480 youth to the sport in one summer. “We had a camp over the Labour Day weekend attended by 20-25 youth who came forward out of our clinics. But no-one from the board, apart from one chap, would volunteer to coach. They wanted cricket, but for themselves. Some of those youth went on to become some of Halifax’s most outstanding athletes in other sports. Nevertheless, we had a successful template. We then wrote a development plan, it was approved by the AGM, but the then board sat on it. I also advanced the theme, for a professional approach in amateur sport, and we developed our own first class marketing materials, a newsletter and articles we distributed from the grounds.” (1)

“The amateur perspective must be defended as the apple of our eye,” he told me.

To this end Mr Seed and the NSCA organized the 1989 Symposium, “The Crisis in Sport; The Amateur Perspective” at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax. It featured a number of Canada’s Olympians and leading sports personalities from Nova Scotia, he recalls. From that date they carried forward an informal network of mutual collaboration and co-operation within the community. “The unifying principle is our aim. We seek to create, open and expand space for amateur sport and the popularization amongst youth of the highest sporting ideals of mankind.”

In an editorial he wrote at the time of the Sydney Olympics, Tony Seed elaborated on the issue as follows:

“What is the real match, the real contest here? There are two concepts of sport, just as there are two sports played in Canada – amateur and professional, sport played by people or sport performed as a tool of Mammon and the pursuit of gold. It is a matter of two outlooks; an amateur concept of sports and the concept of sports as ‘entertainment.’

“The concept of sports as the people’s right, as a source of health and well-being for all, or sports as a market commodity, a source of personal wealth, and a proclamation of international superiority.

“Either ‘friendship, first, competition second, or ‘winning-is-everything” – the pragmatic mentality that ‘the end justifies the means.’“ (2)

Twenty years later Mr Seed is still active in cricket though not at the level he would like. But that ideal remains undimmed as a perspective guiding his life and work in the sphere of sport and recreation.

“One reason I’m still here in the NSCA – with Ranjeev Chopra and Bhan Deonarine who have been the solid nucleus of keeping cricket alive in Nova Scotia over the past 15 years – is that I’m the only native-born Canadian in our association. Together we have stood against the consistent pressure to marginalize us as just an ‘fringe’, ‘ethnic’ or ‘immigrant sport’ – just as the media politically marginalize the small parties. I also find the same pressure within the Canadian Cricket Association (CCA) when they buy into the liberal fraud of ‘multiculturalism’. Then this can rise to national chauvinism amongst the cricketers or a narrow national spirit to divide and split our athletes and recreational players. It’s a form of racial profiling and not healthy. When you look at it objectively, however, we are really a blue collar sport.

“So, when you consider sport, recreation and physical education from the point of view of a modern body politic – its funding, its popularization through the media, its organization, its place in the society – there is a fundamental issue of the rights of all, the right-to-be, that we must all defend as a principle.”

Amateur sport and recreation is a basic human right

That is also one of his election themes, the securing of the right of citizens to participate in amateur sport and recreation as a basic human right, rather than a policy objective of this or that government, a privilege accorded to the elite. Apart from Tony Seed, says Tom Flaherty, director of the Nova Scotia Secondary Schools Athletic Federation, no-one in the 39th general election is talking about sport as a concern of Nova Scotians and of educators.

Mr Seed says: “It is a social and a national issue of first-rate importance. The lack of facilities is unconscionable, and even the hockey stadium infrastructure built during the 1960s is crumbling. ‘User pay’ fees which were introduced at the municipal and school level during the 1990s as part of the anti social offensive – around which our NSCA was very active in forging a united front with the other sports to fight at the Halifax city council – must be abolished as an unequal tax. Open the school gyms and turn them over to the community! Federal sports funding and its criteria must be based on participation first, performance second. We must be very active in rejecting the neo-liberal model of privatizing sport. How can sport be evaluated on the narrow-minded chart of how many gold medals it will win for Canada, or becoming tied to the corporate marketing agendas of the monopolies and helping to them ‘competitive’? It is the kiss of death.”

Governments assert they have no funds for recreational facilities and elite athlete training centres. There is no lack of funding, Mr Seed counters, pointing to an extraordinary $15 billion annual military budget fast heading towards the $20 billion range.

“The youth are the best thing Canada has going for it,” he affirms. “The rise of obesity amongst our youth is the greatest indictment of Canada’s failure in the sphere of sport and recreation for our nation’s youth.” Instead of seriously discussing this, he says, all the ‘major parties’ are hysterically targeting youth with a dangerous ‘law and order’ agenda, rather than assisting them. On another level, athletes (and cricketers) have been commodified and turned into a political and economic tool for powerful enterprises such as the International Marketing Group.

“Like everything else, Mr Seed continues, “it comes back to the question of Who Decides? – vested interests or the people, the powerful private sports and entertainment monopolies or the sportsmen and women? Canadians find it repugnant that they are being pressured into becoming a nation of couch potatoes, apathetic citizens and spectators, and consumers of bread and circuses.

“Why should a society rent with inequality be acquitted of its responsibility for the all-round upbringing of its youth? Can such a society be deemed modern and democratic? Should not people’s needs including the fundamental right to participate in sport and recreation not be met by their society through a government that serves the public good and is subject to the will of the people?”

Mr Seed’s playing field isn’t limited to cricket. He’s a certified Level II coach in baseball and basketball along with cricket. With former St Louis Cardinals pitcher Curtis Coward he wrote and published The Kids’ Baseball Book in 1994, a best seller and still popular among kids, families, and coaches

“This book was shown to the CCA as a possible template for a book on cricket to popularize our sport amongst Canadian youth, they said they liked it in words, but they never followed up in deeds,” he recalls. The current CCA president “oohed and awed” over the book again in 2004 when he visited during the Maritime Cricket Festival.

“Same result! They didn’t step up to the plate.”

“It is not an issue of our book; it is all too characteristic of a pervasive exclusiveness.”

Sport, the ‘brawn drain’ and nation-building

According to Mr Seed: “It was the first-ever visit of the president to the Maritimes. Are we not part of Canada? This illustrates how the regional inequality within the Canadian Confederation is replicated within a so-called national sports governing body.”

The Maritimes, as everyone knows, is a depressed region in Canada with growing out-migration and poverty. “And, as with most other sports, we are very much like a third world country in the Maritimes when it comes to facilities, coaching, funding and development. Our best young athletes have to go down the road or ‘Down South’ to the US. Few come back, although it is our society and our communities who nurtured them. The ‘major parties’ all talk about reversing the ‘brain drain’ of our youth and university graduates, but the ‘brawn drain’, the sort of talent theft and slavery that takes place of our young athletes to Toronto-Montreal and especially by the United States, is not only never mentioned, it is consciously fostered by the ‘major parties’, the major media, and their neo-liberal, free market agenda. One of the fatal consequences is that there is not a single national league in any sport in Canada at present.

Sport, he says controversially, has become a powerful and open tool for annexation and integration of Canada’s human and material resources by the United States. Illustrating the links between seemingly disparate social and political forces and the agenda behind them, Tony Seed ranges passionately over such examples and issues as a Canadian university in BC defecting from Canadian Interuniversity Sport to join the NCAA in the US; how the Toronto and Vancouver NBA franchises passed over drafting Steve Nash (last year’s MVP and Canada’s athlete of the year) as well as every other promising Canadian collegian; how universities have been slashing women’s sport; how citizenship papers are expedited for prospective Olympian athletes while hundreds of refugees are held in detention centres; how Olympians are forced to humiliate themselves by literally begging for much-needed funding while youth teams from working class neighbourhoods must “can” in front of supermarkets just to finance equipment, uniforms and gym rentals; how decisions were made behind people’s backs for Halifax’s bid for the Commonwealth Games; and the relationship between sport, health, poverty and nation-building.

“What is the massive media hype about Sydney Crosby all about? Here we have a 17-year-old youth from Cole Harbour, NS drafted by the NHL in a lottery auction staged in New York, then exported to Pittsburgh of all places, and marketed by Reebok, owned by adidas of Germany. His every move, his every word is memorialized by the sports press while coverage of amateur sport is few and far between. What are they celebrating? Go South to make it. Forget Canada, its small potatoes, nada, zilch.”

Each example he finds a metaphor for the spiritual and moral annihilation of a nation, against which he urges all athletes and youth to participate in a new nation-building project his Marxist-Leninist Party has taken up as their own. Party politics has subjugated sport to an agenda set by the elite. Instead they could collaborate with others in this sector, and advance a national sports plan for Canadians to decide on. Sovereignty needs to be vested in the people. “We are face with a choice: we can keep on complaining, or we can build an alternative.”

Mr Seed is also a seven-year member of the organizing committee of the famed Justin Coward Memorial Basketball Junior Tournament which is held annually in in seven gyms in Dartmouth and Cole Harbour. The festival has grown from 24 to 72 teams from throughout the Maritimes and even Maine, and its motto is “Carry the Ball, Carry the Books” and “Friendship First, Competition Second.” The ethic is promoted through banners, the program, the co-ed balance, and even how the awards are chosen. Poignantly, teams from Africville, the indigenous Afro-Nova Scotian community located on prime property on Halifax’s waterfront which was bulldozed in the name of urban renewal during the 1960s, have emerged as repeated champions. (3)

Tony Seed has contributed to the advance of amateur sport publishing in Nova Scotia as well. Editor-publisher of Shunpiking, Nova Scotia’s award-winning discovery magazine (www.shunpiking.com), he was asked two years ago to go on the short list for the position of publisher of The Hockey News, something he says took just thirty seconds to turn down. He has published and designed innovative periodicals for cricket, baseball, soccer, scuba diving, field hockey, cycling and recreation programs in public housing. “We badly need to develop our own independent media to combat the narcosis and disinformation by the media molochs of sport as ‘entertainment’ – as a scaffold to build our sports at the grassroots, cricket included,” he says.

He’s only been stumped once during the current election. When asked by the Dalhousie Gazette recently as to what was the dumbest thing he ever did in college, he had to think for a long time. “Played university football instead of basketball or cricket,” he finally replied. And, at the age of 60, Tony Seed still plays in a masters’ basketball league. “There are six players older and much fitter than myself. Our spirit is: we’re never too old to learn new things.”

Endnotes

1. “How to watch and understand a cricket match”, Tony Seed, NSCA, 1987

2. “What is the real narcotic in amateur sport,” Tony Seed, Editorial, Shunpiking Magazine, September, 2000.

http://www.shunpiking.com/ol0113/NarcoticinSport.htm

3. “Friendship First – The Justin Coward Memorial,” Tony Seed, Shunpiking Magazine. March 2002. http://www.shunpiking.com/bhs/Friendship%20First.htm

“What is important in competitive sport, A coach’s letter in defence of sportsmanship and against a narrow-minded winning-is-everything approach,” Barb Campbell, March, 2002. http://www.shunpiking.com/bhs/JC-letter.htm

Tony Seed may be reached at tonyseed@bellaliant.net or 902.477.0470

Source: http://www.canadacricket.com/corantoarchives/news-archive-1-2006.html

For letters on this article, please see

29 January 2008 by Tony Seed on Friendship First, Competition Second


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