Yep, he went there. Would Torontonians cheer Canada in the World Cup?

I’m glad someone finally asked it. Angelo Persichilli fully admits it’s “a question that many are afraid to ask and many more are afraid to answer.”

It reminds me of the wonderful quote from the character Huntly McQueen in Two Solitudes: “Yes, we have discovered a great social secret in Canada. We have contrived to solve problems that would ruin other countries merely by ignoring their existence.”

Well, I’ve got news for everyone. It may not happen in 2014, but it probably will by 2018. Canada is going to qualify for the World Cup, and we’re going to get our answer whether we like it or not.

Persichilli ultimately suggests that we are probably right in not forcing the who would you cheer for if question, but that Torontonians should simply fly a Canadian flag on their car along with the one from their country of origin.

Fair enough.

And if you sort the comments on his article by “most agreed,” it would seem many people (or at least a desperately non-scientific sample of those motivated enough to comment on an Internet news story) are on a similar wavelength. Several comments point out that Torontonians of every imaginable background supported Canada during the Olympics, and I can vouch for this firsthand because I was parading down Yonge Street with them after the hockey gold.

But this is just it. Hockey has attained a mythical status in 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 Canada in hockey and their country of origin in soccer has never really produced a conflict because, don’t you know, soccer isn’t a “Canadian” thing anyway.

And Persichilli points out the CBC’s coverage of this World Cup – send us halftime pictures of you eating your favourite “ethnic dish”!  –  simply reinforces the idea that soccer exists as a means for Canadians to celebrate the other part of the hyphenated identity. We’re all Canadians when it comes to hockey, and we’re from everywhere but here when it comes to soccer.

But we’ve recently been offered some clues as to what might happen were Canada to qualify for the globe’s biggest sporting tournament. The first two matches of Canada’s ill-fated World Cup qualifying campaign played out in the late summer of 2008. In the first game in Toronto versus Jamaica, Canadian soccer supporters hailed the fantastic crowd, a majority of which was decked out in red and supporting Canada. Such a scene was virtually unprecedented in Toronto and due solely to the grassroots efforts of various TFC and Canada supporter groups to ensure the tickets got into the hands of people who would support Canada. I was at that match, and can report that a very small percentage of the people in red were Jamaican-Canadians. They mostly showed up wearing yellow.

The match in Montreal two weeks later was more disturbing. About 1,000 Canada supporters – the majority of which appeared to be young, white males who’d made the trip up from Toronto – sat penned into a block of seats directly behind one of the goals. The rest of the 12,000 or so in attendance were wearing the blue and white of Honduras. I’m sure some of them had travelled from the U.S., but judging by the Ontario and Quebec license plates and snippets I gathered from the crowd, I’m also sure many were Canadian citizens. Canada lost 2-1, and by the final whistle the Canada and Honduras supporters were hurling obscenities and beer cups at each other. I also witnessed some minor fisticuffs.

Not a great day for the cultural mosaic, although the events passed completely without comment (at least to my knowledge) in any major Canadian news outlet.

I’m not suggesting the Toronto Police Services should prepare for widespread street violence in the event Canada actually does qualify for the World Cup. Far from it. Most reasonable people have far more important things to worry about beyond which country’s soccer team you should feel pressured into cheering for.

And a person simply can’t immigrate somewhere and then completely abandon all feelings of loyalty to – or pride in – the place they are from. Heck, I haven’t lived in Winnipeg in 12 years and I’m still waxing poetic about it every chance I get. The point is that as a society we actually discuss such questions reasonably rather than pretend they aren’t there and that we’ll never have to confront them.

Or maybe stoic old Huntly McQueen had an inkling about Canada’s national soccer team. Maybe they’ll stay inept forever and we really will never have to face the who would you cheer for if question.

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7 Responses to “Yep, he went there. Would Torontonians cheer Canada in the World Cup?”

  1. They would. I truly believe that. They would also cheer for their other countries.

    Remember that the 2008 game came less than 1.5 seasons into the TFC experiment. By the time 2012 rolls around the TFC supporters will be entrenched and the idea of cheering for Canada will be self-evident. If we made it to a World Cup the assumption would be that we played a bunch of games at BMO where that crowd would gather momentum. By the time the Finals rolled around everyone would be behind them.

    The big country fans would not look at Canada as a rival — more as a harmless distraction between the games they really cared about. But, they would cheer. They certainly would not cheer against.

  2. In a direct head-to-head recent immigrants and even not-so-recent immigrants will cheer for their countries of origin. Any match where Canada’s loss might be advantageous (i.e. members of the same group) they would cheer against Canada. The Portuguese flags flying on the cars all over the west-end of Winnipeg these recent weeks I think serve as evidence of this.
    This is a question of heritage but it is also a question of loyalty. Two types of loyalty.
    The first and less important is your standard sports loyalty – who wants to be a fair-weather fan just because Canada has managed a single qualification when you and your parents have been cheering for your country for your whole life?
    The second is much more complex to resolve because the national loyalty of immigrants to Canada to their country of origin (and I speak now as someone married to a recent immigrant) is a complex mix of nostalgia and guilt. You leave much of your family behind and whatever troubles might have plagued you and them. I think that the solidarity with the “homeland” is in some ways a means to assuage that guilt and recapture some feelings from “back home”. Even second and third generation Canadians are told of the hardships that caused immigration and the guilt is to some extent passed on. — I’m talking sub-consciously.

    All that being said I have absolutely no doubt that a Canadian qualification would make them the #1 minnow in the tournament. Everyone around the world would love them and cheer for them as neutrals and if they did well the world would get behind them.

    • And to that point, Canada is a relatively young country and Toronto is the most multicultural city in the world. I believe it’s something like just over 20% of the people here have both parents born in Canada.

      I think it simply comes down to how long your family has been in Canada. Portuguese immigration to Canada didn’t really get rolling until the late ’60’s and has recently trailed off, so I’m going to assume that anyone scooting around Winnipeg with a Portugal flag on their car was actually born in Portugal, or grew up in a household with parents who were. I’m going to assume that their grandchildren and great-grandchildren will “feel” Canadian, and not because anyone forced them to, but simply because that’s the way things work.

  3. I like Jamison’s comments. Well said sir.

    I also believe in the “sing when you’re winning” mentality.

    If Canada wasn’t so good at Hockey, we (as a nation, en masse) wouldn’t watch it.

    If Canada defeated Italy in a footie friendly, I think you’d find those blue shirts hiding under red ones by the end of the match. But since the plausibility of that happening is nearly nil (for one reason or another), you’ve got yourself a hypothetical situation.

    That’s just my prediction.

  4. Canada has a national soccer team?

  5. That irks me too and I can’t wait for Canada to qualify, just to show all of these people waving foreign flags that we can do it too. Unfortunately when Canada qualifies I will not be here to watch the games… 🙂

    Another thing that I will be happy about, is when they will be forced to stop the “Pulse of the Nation” BS. I would see it as a major disrespect towards the CMNT if they show immigrants cheering for their country on public television if Canada is in the competition.

  6. I’m pretty sure CBC would completely change over their naming and segment choices for coverage of a World Cup with Canada competing. Only reason they’ve gone to the whole Pulse of the Nation thing is because we aren’t in it, therefore they need a central theme to pull everything together.

    When we get there next, I’d expect CBC to go full out in support of us, why would it even be a question?

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