Sochi 2014: Respect for one’s opponent in sport (2)

Mike Babcock’s rant: “And the other thing that happens for the NHL player, and probably for you in the media, is the respect you have for the opposition.” Welcome to the G-20 Winter Games and the Harper agenda for a “new patriotism.” | TONY SEED*

Revised on February 23, 2014

juegos-olimpicos-de-Invierno-2014CANADIANS are passionate about their hockey and many other sports. Of course Canadians are rooting for their team and their athletes.

But what is taking place at the Sochi Winter Olympics is something quite different. A salient feature of the reporting and broadcasting of the hockey competition is that it is characterized by strident themes of great nation superiority and the domination by two countries, Canada and the USA. The principle that relations in sport be based on the relations of equality of nations, big and small or the principle that every nation is as equally as important as the next nation means nothing to these big nation Anglo-American chauvinists, let alone the principle of friendship between peoples and their athletes.

The media steps to the plate

When prime minister Stephen Harper issued his message for Canadian Olympic athletes “to take on the world,” the powerful sports media lined up at the firing range.

During the opening round of the hockey competition, the media uniformly questioned why Team Canada was not running up the score against allegedly inferior opponents – as in women’s hockey – to secure a higher seed in the playoff rounds. This “debate” has persisted into the second round of the competition.

CBC’s play-by-play telecasting is punctuated by constantly identifying players, regardless of their country, with which “N”HL monopoly owns their contact as a commodity, even though annexed Canadian capital owns a minority (7 of 32) of the franchises in that cartel. This or that player is breathlessly proclaimed without any objective criteria as “the best player in the world,” the TV cameras focus on him, and the quality of his contribution made the object of hundreds of articles.

When evaluating the future of smaller European countries such as Switzerland in women’s hockey, CBC telecasters slavishly recommended that their future can only be secured by exporting talented youth to the NCAA in the USA for skill development.

Latvia, it stressed, has less players than Canada has referees, the basic neocolonial view that looks down on small countries. On February 19, Canada, which has trained more members of the Latvian armed forces – where there is a neo-nazi revival – in NATO military doctrine than it has hockey players (none), was held to a 2-1 score in the quarter-final “scare” by the Latvians. (Neither the Government of Canada nor the NHL has a skill development programs in other countries, while the popularization of sport in poor countries is left to Right to Play, a voluntary NGO, an initiative of athletes and funded through contributions from the public.)

The media narrative is punctuated with a “debate” about whether or not the NHL is going to take hockey out of the next 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea and perhaps even stage its own World Cup. The poor owners have been victimized and their fans short-changed and held hostage because “the best league in the world has been shut down.” (Primetime Sports, Rogers Sportsnet, February 18)

Orientalism also comes to the fore to justify the NHL as the so-called “best league” against the Asiatic depotism of Russia. The most base comments are uttered to lower the level of discourse to that of the mob. The Toronto Star (Cathal Kelly) arrogantly referred to the KHL league as a “weasel” league. KHL is the acronym for the Continental Hockey League based in Russia and founded in 2008; some 60 per cent of the 300 players are from Russia. Franchises are owned by the wealthy oligarchs; it is the successor to the former amateur club system, decayed since its socialist origins. When the revisionist Soviet Union collapsed, the NHL offered lucrative contracts to attract many of the top players, a version of talent theft. (Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and several other countries also have pro leagues.) According to Wikipedia, weasels

“are small, active predators, long and slender with short legs.”

Weasels have a variety of different cultural meanings. According to the Urban Dictionary, a weasel is a

“shifty, schemeing person that will do whatever they need to to escape whatever they fear in the moment.”

The use of the epithet “weasel” by the Toronto Star is no small matter. It is reminiscent of the animal metaphors used to debase and demonize Iraqi and other leaders in world public opinion – the infamous “deck of weasels” identified as “enemies of America” – leading up to the Anglo-American invasion in 2003 and those used by the Hitlerite Nazis against the Jews.

This Toronto Star scribbler deems the NHL, which locked out the players and then blamed them for holding the fans hostage in order to drive down the payer share of revenues by some ten per cent, to be the elite paragon of virtue and civilization.  Further, Nick Kypreos of Rogers Sportsnet derogatively stated on Primetime Sports on February 18th that Russian and European hockey players recruited by the NHL are “zeroes” until they become “civilized.”  His fellow panelists and host Bob McGowan chuckled in mock distaste without calling their crony to account for the racist and outrageous comment. Hence, Russia as an Asiatic nation as well as small countries can never consider themselves on a par with an imperialist state to whose cosmopolitan and“civilized” superiority they must sacrifice their own sports future and their young athletes.

Nor is there any need to mention anything more about women’s hockey than to state the obvious: the gold and silver medals are exclusively reserved for the USA and Canada with a tiny handful of “minnows” left to compete for the bronze medal.

G-20 Olympics

Welcome to the G-20 Olympics, whose program, profits, and even what sports are featured or added, regardless of their social base, are tailored to the self-serving interests of the very rich. Although 88 countries are participating in Sochi, the Toronto Star’s and Rogers Sportnet’s Damien Cox cynically proclaims that “A small clutch of northern nations rule the Winter Games and within that group, there are sports dominated by specific countries.”

Is it little wonder then that there are reports of an American-Russian detente to divide up figure skating medals? Or that an open rivalry has broken out between two sport cartels, the NHL and the privileged International Olympic Committee (IOC) elite, competing for supremacy in the world market, thereby blocking the development of a human-centred Olympics movement?

Mike Babcock’s rant: (the lack of) “respect you have for the opposition”

At a press conference on February 16, the head coach of Team Canada, Mike Babcock, openly took umbrage with the outrageous notion of great nation superiority and “unrealistic expectations” of the hockey reporters, following the tautly-played match with Finland won by Canada in overtime 2-1. The context is worth elaborating.

The Finns, though decimated by injuries to key players, had played superbly. (In the quarter-finals, they ousted Russia 3-1 and eventually won the bronze medal, trouncing the United States 5-0.) Nevertheless, TSN and epsn.com representative Pierre Lebrun reportedly suggested to Mr Babcock that his hockey team was either manipulating results or not competing according to its all-star strengths against so-called inferior opponents.

Mr. Babcock has been professional hockey coach of the Detroit Red Wings since 2005; in 2006 he appointed a European player for the first time to the captaincy, Nicklas Lidstrom of Sweden, who also became the first European-born NHL captain to win the Stanley Cup. He has also coached junior and senior hockey teams numerous times in international competition.

Most athletes know that to enter a competition with the idea that your opponent is a superior or inferior being is the kiss of death. Mr. Babcock’s respect and preparation for his potential competitors at the Sochi Winter Games is said to be second to none. In fact, long before the tournament he retained former NHL, German and Swiss coach Ralph Kreuger just three hours after the latter was relieved of his position last summer as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers to be a special adviser to Team Canada. Mr Kreuger coached the Swiss men’s national ice hockey team from the 1997/1998 season until the end of the XXI Olympic Winter Games in 2010. At the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, Canada finished seventh, and was famously defeated by Switzerland. For the past half year Mr Kreuger has been scouting the European teams and helping devise suitable tactics. He worked up a full profile with a video package of all of Canada’s opponents. Tactics are often the same in the NHL team to team, Krueger told Gary Lawless in the Winnipeg Free Press, but not so in Europe, particularly when it comes to neutral zone play. “In Europe, it’s critical how teams approach the neutral zone, which is eight feet longer blue line to blue line. How do they approach that neutral zone? How do they play defensively when they lose possession of the puck, and how can you break that?”

“And the other thing that happens for the NHL player, and probably for you in the media, is the respect you have for the opposition. You say, ‘Well, he doesn’t play in the NHL.’ They’re playing for their country, and they play hard. And they make it hard on you.”

At the press conference, Mr. Babcock went on a rant “about how unrealistic expectations have become for his team, and all the other medal contenders as well. It’s a hard game,” he said.

“The European game is interesting; it’s all about defence, the end zone is smaller … they get out on your D so quick, the dynamic D we have don’t get to shoot any pucks; they play man-on-man and they’re on you like glue, and it’s hard, and you have to be committed to do it.

“And the other thing that happens for the NHL player, and probably for you in the media, is the respect you have for the opposition. You say, ‘Well, he doesn’t play in the NHL.’ They’re playing for their country, and they play hard. And they make it hard on you.”

Referring to the media paparazzi, he added pointedly, “I think we’re competing like crazy, so I’m way happier than people that are sitting 200 feet away.”

Harper’s agenda

Of course the level of culture of the athletes and the coaches does not mirror the boorish and jingoistic approach of the rich, but this is the outlook which is being pushed at every turn. Another agenda is at work that is hostile to the spirit of friendship, solidarity, respect and appreciation amongst all nations and peoples in the sphere of modern sport and their right to be.

Especially since the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, from Canada’s Prime Minister on down to the sports media, sports are being used as a platform to push a performance-based Canadian personality, Sandra L. Smith points out. The personality must be aggressive, competitive and unapologetic: “We are winners,” “We are No. 1,” “We stand second to none” – the “pukes,” “weasels,” “uncivilized,” “minnows,” “hypocrites” and “turncoats.” This is the same idea thrown at the workers across the country day in and day out so that they make concessions that permit the monopolies to be “competitive on the world markets.” Those who do not perform to expectations can expect to be losers and be cast aside like scrap.

Canadians need to seriously discuss how Harper and the media of the rich are using the Sochi Winter Olympics and the enthusiasm of Canadians for their young athletes who are competing in the games. Now that we are being fully integrated into U.S. wars and fully annexed, the ruling class wants to brand us with the aggressive and racist characteristics associated with our neighbours to the south. Historically, when the rich push base chauvinism, it goes hand in hand with preparation for war. The Harper government is a war government. The naked disrespect of their nations and their athletes, the push for Canada to “own the podium” and the Canadian hockey teams to run up the score against allegedly weak and inferior opponents, and Harper’s obscene boasts that the large presence of Canadian troops abroad showed “Canada is a major actor” is a comparison that needs serious consideration.

Friendship First!

*Tony Seed is co-author with Curtis Coward of The Kids’ Baseball Book (Halifax: New Media Publications, 1994) and a former coach, sports executive and publisher of amateur sport periodicals in Nova Scotia.

Related reading: “Sochi 2014: Respect for one’s opponent in sport (1)

More about this in our next post:

The NHL’s blatant provocation against the Olympics

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One response to “Sochi 2014: Respect for one’s opponent in sport (2)

  1. Pingback: Sochi 2014: The NHL’s blatant provocation against the Olympics | Friendship First, Competition Second – An Amateur Sport Website

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