Toronto Wolfpack: Yet another sports franchise militarizes game, stadium


On August 31 the Toronto Wolfpack rugby franchise staged an inaugural “Forces and Families Day” at Lamport Stadium in parallel with the Canadian International Air Show being held over the Canadian National Exhibition (see below) to promote war and militarism in Canada. The event included a fly over featuring a CF-18 Hornet fighter jet, CH146 SAT Griffon helicopter and Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone helicopter – all aircraft which have been used by Canada to wage war on other nations; displays of Canadian Forces military equipment in the pre-game FanZone (a beer garden) as “family entertainment”; a half time contest with active military members; and free admission for hundreds of well-paid members of the Toronto Scottish Regiment and their families.

Wolfpack players at the Canadian Forces College

Beforehand, the team visited the Canadian Forces College in Toronto for a convivial social function to promote the event. The centre trains staff from home and NATO countries, especially Eastern Europe.

Since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, every member of the big US sports cartels operating in Canada has embraced such a program. The Wolfpack franchise went so far that it boasted that its event “represents the first time in Canada where a professional sports team has held a Military acknowledgement day while including the families of those active members in the celebration.” Showing a commercial motive, each family was given cobranded Toronto Wolfpack and Forces & Families hats.

Military values and sport

A Canadian Press report played up the event, encouraging youth to take up military life. The CP article, serialized throughout the U.S.-owned Postmedia newspaper chain, promoted that military values are sport values.  CP profiled Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott, who had served for five years in the Royal Marines in the barbarous Anglo-American occupation of Iraq and Northern Ireland. This counterposes against the modern norm of sport that promotes people-to-people friendship, which is championed by many Canadians and athletes. His “military service helped make him the man he is today” and McDermott alludes to so-called military values of regimented discipline and mental focus which opposes the human factor/social consciousness.

Military values are willy-nilly equated with war and aggression. Joining and participating in the armed forces and wars of aggression means “they do their bit so we can do this,” said the ex-marine, waving his hand at the Lamport playing field, as if the U.S.-commanded armed forces are decisive to the security of the Canadian people. It is a political demand that the Canadian people support the U.S. empire.

In the controversy over Colin Kaepernick who courageously refused to salute the U.S. anthem during NFL games it is overlooked that not a few Canadian athletes have spoken out against participation in unjust wars and occupation such as Steve Nash and the late Johnny Bower, along with protesting inequality, violence, discrimination and racism endemic in the sports industry. And the broadening of the protest by Colin Kaepernick to include many other athletes and millions who expressed their support in various ways, is a further indication that the people do not accept war and inequality and more generally are rejecting the direction the United States and Canada are headed in. Similarly, many veterans have also taken stands.

The needs of the time

The crucial issue of opposing the militarization and politicization of sport and public space must be taken up keeping in mind who controls sports and the decision-making processes. In this system the people are cast as passive spectators and cheerleaders to both the militarization and the politicization of sport, despite continuing protests. It is not simply that it is dictate by the sports empires hand in glove with the military brass, but that this phenomena is demonstrating that the public events staged by these private monopolies are not consistent with the needs of the times. The privatization of sport and the exclusion of the masses of youth from participation in sport is also not consistent with the needs of the time. They are an obstruction to the people having the power to challenge the control of the financial oligarchy, which has subordinated sport to its self-serving ends, and a military and foreign policy which is blocking the exercise of the rights of the youth and the people and refusing to recognize their needs. None of these arrangements are going to serve their interests, which is why they are being opposed.

Forthcoming: The militarization and politicization of sport in Canada: A widespread phenomena

For Your Information: Rugby and the Toronto Wolfpack

Rugby in Canada is played almost exclusively on an amateur basis by over 50,000 Canadians, including more and more junior women, from St. John’s to Victoria. According to Rugby Ontario, some 100,000 youth play some form or another of the game. Despite this social base, it has been classed de facto as a “minor” sport by the government and its anti-social “winning is everything” and “own the podium” approach and denied the funding which would enable the development of a national league or a national team with the possibilities of participating regularly in international tests. Canada for example was humiliated 63-0 on October 3 in a 2019 World Cup pool match in Japan by the New Zealand All-Blacks. (By the 54 second mark the All-Blacks had the ball on the Canadian goal line.) Toronto Wolfpack coach Brian McDermott is the latest of a long line of British and New Zealand coaches imported to Canada in the name of developing the game at the national and provincial level. Such coaches promote a homogenous Eurocentric approach to the game of overwhelming physical firepower, as in the organization of the scrum, prohibiting the emergence of any national character in the playing style of Canada.

Many Canadian rugby players have to pay their own way or go into debt to compete. Those youth wishing to play and develop their skills full-time are encouraged to emigrate and find employment with European clubs or scholarships with U.S. NCAA universities. This talent drain, like the brain drain, is presented as “natural” – even “a great opportunity.”

Founded in 2016, the three-year-old Toronto Wolfpack rugby franchise is the only major sports franchise in Toronto, Ontario not controlled by the Bell and Rogers telecom oligopolies. It further boasts that it is the first trans-Atlantic sports franchise in history. Its schedule involves a rotation of four games in England and France, four games in Toronto, and so on throughout the spring to autumn season.

The team has been enormously successful in English Rugby Football League competition. It began in the third-tier semi-professional League 1 in 2017, winning promotion after a 15-0-0 season. In 2018 it advanced to the tier II Championship League with the goal of winning promotion to the top-flight, eight-team Super League. It had a 20-2-1 record that year but lost the last promotional game 4-2 to London. On October 5, it will host the Million Pound Game against the Featherstone Rangers at Lamport Stadium, with the winner securing promotion to the top-tier Super League. It has won its past 22 games.

Although Canadian rugby has developed numbers of athletes who play professionally abroad, mainly in Europe, and the Wolfpack boasts that it is the first “truly professional rugby franchise in Canada,” its roster does not include a single Canadian player. Its imported players are all billeted in a university residence like mercenaries, isolated from the community. Players billet at the George Brown College residence in West Don Lands that is the former site of the 2015 Pan American Games Athletes’ Village and train at Lamport Stadium. Visiting English teams are billeted at York University and use its facilities to train. CP reports that “It pays for opposing teams’ travel and accommodation – with a sponsorship deal with Air Transat helping.”

The franchise is owned by an Australian chemical mining and resources millionaire, David Argyle, who is now based in Toronto, together with a group of unnamed investors. Bloomberg informs that he is Chief Executive Officer, Brazil Potash Corp and previously Amazon Potash Corp; board member of Longford Energy Inc, Valencia Ventures Inc., Earthrenew Inc.; and previously President/CEO of Dynamite Resources Ltd (08/2007–05/2009). Brazil Potash owns significant potash properties in the state of Amazonas, Brazil.

The Rugby Football League and the Wolfpack view rugby in Canada as a market to be fertilized and groomed, not as a sport of the people. Canada presently has the largest amount of rugby league followers outside of Australia, France, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Its aim is to grow the mass of spectators in rivalry with competing sport cartels, not sport as a right of the mass.

Internationally, sixty per cent of the International Rugby Board’s World Cup revenue came from broadcast contracts. Of the £150m revenue garnered by the IRB between 2009 and 2012 approximately 50 per cent of the revenues went to the ten tier-one nations. The remaining 109 member national unions were left to scramble over the other fifty per cent, according to their “strength.”

In a December 2018 interview with Sports Business Daily, Argyle said that the strategy was to expand the marketing base for professional rugby in North America, “position a major North American city in the (global) sports landscape,” and obtain international broadcast deals. The Toronto Wolfpack owns rights to all broadcasts of their matches. In Canada games are broadcast on CBC Live and hitherto on Game TV, in the USA games are broadcast on Eleven Sports, and in the UK and Ireland Premier Sports broadcasts through the Sky Network. “Our games now can be watched in 115 million homes. I’m not saying 115 million homes watch our games, but that’s a significant platform… We’re not shy in saying that we want to be a global rugby brand built around a club.”

A July 2019 CP article informs that the franchise is ensnared in financial, legal and racist controversy. To circumvent the private US sport cartels and the monopoly control of the sports media which blocks coverage of non-monopolized Canadian sport, the Wolfpack finances its own TV productions of its games for Sky TV in the United Kingdom and other platforms worldwide. This included paying GameTV to broadcast its matches in Canada. According to Wikipedia, “GameTV is a Canadian English language discretionary service channel that is owned by Anthem Sports & Entertainment,” itself owned by the Asper family, former owners of Canwest. The Asper company is involved in streaming sports to global markets. This summer GameTV stopped airing its games. The Wolfpack is also being sued for defaulting on payments for TV production. Alberta’s ILink Media Group alleges it is owed more than $125,000 in unpaid bills from 2018 TV broadcast work.

In June, 2019 Argyle was fined $12,275 for a racist comment to a visiting player by the Rugby Football League, the sport’s governing body, whereupon “he retreated into the background after apologizing and throwing himself on his sword” – ostensibly resigning his position but keeping his ownership stake.

Whether the Wolfpack will sink or swim in the highly monopolized Toronto sport market remains to be seen. While the Wolfpack seem to have no formal ownership ties to Rogers and MLSE, the informal linkages are clear. On August 14, it appointed Robert (Bob) Hunter as the Club’s Chairman and Interim CEO. For the past 22 years he has been with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) oligopoly. From 2014-19 he was Chief Project Development Officer managing major business and project opportunities as well as annual capital projects for all venues of MLSE. Previously he was Vice President of Operations and Fan Experience Toronto on the $625M SkyDome Stadium project beginning in 1987 and later promoted to President and CEO. In 1998, he became Executive Vice President and General Manager of Air Canada Centre (now Scotiabank Arena). Hunter oversaw the construction of BMO Field, home of Toronto FC and later the Toronto Argonauts. He is a member of the Boards of Athletica Sports Systems, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Toronto Entertainment District Business Improvement Association and the Deans Advisory Council at the University of Waterloo.

Hunter was front and centre of the “Forces and Families Day” which have become the norm in Scotiabank Arena, the Rogers Centre and BMO Field – perhaps his first contribution as CEO.

With a file from Wikipedia

Protest opposes use of the Canadian National Exhibition to promote war and militarism

Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, the Parkdale Free School and others held a two-hour protest at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto on August 31 to oppose the use of the CNE to promote war and militarism in Canada. They called for an end to the Canadian International Air Show which highlights U.S. and Canadian fighter jets which have been used by Canada to wage war on other nations. For example, on display was the CF 18 jet that was used, in violation of international law, to bomb Libya in 2011 as well as Syria and Iraq from 2014 to the present. The USAF A-10 was also on display that bombed Iraq and was used in the NATO war of aggression against Yugoslavia.

The protesters carried signs and chalked slogans on the sidewalk leading to the CNE grounds: Fighter Jets Are Bad for Climate and People, Air Shows Lead to Air Wars, No Militarized Entertainment, Ground the Air Show and others.

For two weeks the Department of National Defence has been recruiting on the CNE grounds. Families are invited to “play with” and examine the jets and guns. Various cut outs are provided as a prop to take photographs. Throughout the recruitment area the hashtag “We are NATO” was displayed.

The organizers reported that quite a few people stopped and engaged with the protesters and expressed support for their action. A decision was taken by the protesters to bring more people to the action next year to oppose the presentation of the instruments of war and death by the Canadian state as “family entertainment” and to expose the increasing militarization of Canadian life.

Department of National Defence interactive displays at the CNE encourage children and youth to take up imperialist war and aggression.

(Photos: Canadian Voice of Women for Peace)

Source: Renewal Update

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