A tale of two Team Canadas

In the buildup to the World Junior Hockey gold medal match on Tuesday, TSN ran a piece on Canadian player and Toronto Maple Leaf prospect Nazem Kadri, the son of a Lebanese immigrant. I sat there watching Kadri’s dad talk about how he came to Canada and fell in love with hockey, and suddenly asked myself why I was watching it at all?

Canada has been one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world for let’s say, two decades now? Hockey defines us as a nation right? Why is a story about someone who isn’t white and from the middle of nowhere actually playing it well considered human interest?

So that, and some recent worthwhile posts about hockey in and around the Canadian soccer blogosphere, spurred me into a demographic comparison between the 23-member strong Canadian Mens’ Hockey Team that will represent the country at the Vancouver Olympics and 23 young Canadians we’ll assume would be our Mens’ National Soccer Team.

And what I find may just…. not surprise you at all.

(I put together the soccer team on the assumption wild fantasy that Canada were going to the World Cup in June – ie. the best possible team we could field right now. I’m sure some of you will quibble with a choice or two, but for the purposes of this comparison it doesn’t really matter.)

Before we begin….  sourcing. The vast majority of data below is from either Statistics Canada or Wikipedia.

First up.

The percentage of  Canadians living in either Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver; and percentage of players on each national team from those cities:

Canada 36%
Hockey 13%
Soccer 43%

Notes: I do not include players born outside of the country who subsequently moved to one of the above Canadian cities as being from those cities.

Percentage of population that is a visible minority:

Canada 16%
Hockey 4% (Yes, Jarome Iginla divided by 23 is 4%)
Soccer 35%

Percentage that is first generation* (ie. an immigrant):

Canada 20%
Hockey 0%
Soccer 26%

Notes: I did not count Dany Heatley as an immigrant, even though he was born in Germany. His father – a Canadian – was there playing hockey and married a German woman. Dany grew up in Calgary.

Percentage that is second generation (born in Canada, with at least one parent that is an immigrant):

Canada ~17%
Hockey 8%
Soccer 52%

Notes: Full disclosure here. I’m basing the percentage for each team on a combo of Wikipedia entries, Google searches and blatant guessing based on names and skin colour. Feel free to correct me. I’ve got Roberto Luongo and Jarome Iginla as the only two second-generation Canadians on the hockey team. Check out the google doc linked to above for a list of the Canadian footballers I list as second-generation.

Percentage that is third generation (both parents born in Canada):

Canada ~63%
Hockey 91%
Soccer 22%

Note: see note above.

Wow, newsflash: Canada’s hockey team consists of a bunch of white guys from the hinterland whose families have lived here for generations, and its soccer team consists of the children of immigrants from big cities. But while Canada’s soccer team remains mired in obscurity, it is far more representative of the demographic reality of Canada than the national hockey team is.

So this is good for Canadian soccer right? Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver (along with the Calgary-Edmonton corridor and Ottawa) are far and away the fastest growing parts of this country, as hundreds of thousands of immigrants from non-traditional hockey countries pour in each year.

I suppose it is good for Canadian soccer. But a glance at the numbers for the second- and third-generation categories indicates that the game still has plenty of inroads to make with Canadians whose ancestors have been here for awhile.

Considering this blog is often as much about patriotism and Canadian identity as it is about soccer, what does all this mean for our national sport? Will hockey suffer the same fate Simon Kuper envisions for Aussie Rules football a century from now and exist only at subsidized folklore festivals?

I certainly hope not. But I am worried.  I strongly suspect that examples like Kadri are exceptions to the rule.

As society fragments further and people congregate online within their own communities and interests, will the immigrants’ childrens’ children migrate to hockey? Or will they just keep playing soccer? Or cricket? Or whatever? Take some time to read about minor hockey in Scarborough and decide for yourself.

Yes, the powers that be in Canadian hockey have realized the problem for awhile. But the fact that the best 23 young hockey-playing men Canada in the year 2010 look virtually the same as the best 23 from the 1972 Summit Series four decades ago illustrates the progress being made.

* I’ve been in numerous arguments over the years about what the words first generation actually mean, but for this comparison we’ll use the same definitions that Statistics Canada does.

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One Response to “A tale of two Team Canadas”

  1. […] this country – liking it is at the essence of what it means to be Canadian. It may be played exclusively by white guys from the hinterland, but the country’s success is there for everyone to enjoy. For  immigrants, cheering on […]

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