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The Spirit Of The Game

Fans in Greece rioting during a soccer game in 2012

Fans in Greece rioting during a soccer game in 2012

In January, 73 people were killed in Eygpt during a riot following a soccer game in which the home team lost. In 2012, in Greece, a soccer game had to be called because a riot erupted in the stands after some fans set fire to their seats and they started fighting among themselves.

And, of course, British soccer fans have a long and noble tradition of rioting before, during and after soccer games both at home and across Europe to the point where they are banned from attending games in some European cities.

Living in Canada, where such lack of restraint is foreign to us, it is difficult for many to understand how any group of people could become so carried away over something as innocuous as a game – unless, of course, it has something to do with hockey.


Only in Canada would a rioter be sensitive enough to block out an expletive on a sign before rioting

In 2000 and again in 2011, Vancouver Canucks fans rioted following NHL games. The riot in 2011 followed the loss by the home team to the Boston Bruins in the final game of the Stanley Cup. It resulted in dozens of arrests damages in the seven figure range.

It seems to me that it’s one thing to cheer on the team but quite another to be willing to loot, pillage and lay waste the land just because your team didn’t win a game. How bereft of meaning does someone’s life have to be in order to cause them to invest so much of themselves into professional sport that they turn into the barbarian horde when their team loses?

I know, I know, once these things start a kind of mob mentality takes over and one punch leads to another and one broken window and stealing stuff from the store seemed like a good idea at the time because everyone was doing it.


Is our civilization so superficial that all it takes is for the home team to lose a game for us to act like the Mongols streaming across the land burning and pillaging everything before them? Villagers used to hide their daughters and their small farm animals when they heard the Huns were coming; now it’s when they hear hockey and soccer fans are on the tear.

The fact of the matter is that it does start somewhere and that isn’t at the game itself.

I think it starts in places like this.

Welcome to Tweed, Ontario: home of the Tweed Hawks who were hosting the Six Nation’s Hawks on this particular night.

Tweed  is located in eastern Ontario about two hours from where I live. It’s small rural town of less than 7,000 people . It would be easy to dismiss all of this as just a bunch of small town hicks unable to control themselves and there may have been a few involved but while small it may be, Tweed isn’t all hicks and sticks.

In 1996, Tweed got national attention when it applied for a professional football franchise with the intention of trying to become the Green Bay of Canada. It is also the home of the renowned and critically acclaimed IANA Theatre Company. IANA’s musical ‘TWEED: A New Canadian Musical’ is currently nominated for 20 BroadwayWorld.com awards for their 2011 production in Toronto.

In other words, small it is but uncivilized it is not – or not normally. But then, just as in Europe and Egypt somebody decided to have a game of something and all hell broke loose. These were adults fighting over a junior hockey game. They were parents who had come to support their kids; apparently by beating the bejesus out of the parents of opposition players.

It would be bad enough if this kind of thing was only done by sports hooligans (Good word that, I always wanted to write a sentence where I had the opportunity to use the word hooligan.) but it isn’t. Increasingly, we’re seeing hooligans more frequently in a variety of different contexts. (Outstanding. I was able to weave the word hooligan in twice.)

Protest demonstrations have always had an element of violence on the outer fringes but increasingly that violence is becoming the norm rather than the exception. We saw it in places like New York, Denver, Los Angeles and, in particular, in Oakland during the short-lived Occupy occupation.

We saw it in Seattle and Toronto during G8/G20 protests and we’ve seen it in places like Greece, France and other European capitals during protests over everything from gay marriage to austerity.

Not surprising, we’re also seeing it in government.

Here’s an example of democratic debate in last year’s Ukrainian Parliament. Any resemblance to the disagreement in the Tweed hockey arena is probably coincidental.

Even here in the natural home of poutine and Beavertails, Conservative Government House LeaderPeter Van Loan took a determined stroll across the aisle in Parliament to threaten NDP Member Nathan Cullen. This prompted Dandy Thomas Mulcair to jump into the fray to defend his colleague and you can see how easily these things escalate. While I don’t condone violence, a twisted part of me thinks I almost be willing to pay money to watch a bunch of out of shape politicians slapping each other while trying not to wrinkle their suits.

I said almost. I don’t think violence solves anything although a small dark part of me still thinks it would have been a more interesting and perhaps even more effective method for the Liberals to have used in selecting a new leader than the drone-fest farce they tried to sell as a leadership race.

I find it somewhat strange that so many talk about violence in sport rather than the violence around it and find it ironic that so many people use violence to  exercise their right to peaceful protest.

I don’t believe that acting like bull moose in rutting season fighting over the cutest 2,000 lb cow in the forest, is the best way to register our disagreements or disappointment but it appears that kicking ass is becoming the new national sport.

It’s one thing to get into the spirit of the game; but this is becoming ridiculous to the point of being absurd.

Most of the people involved in these violent eruptions are ordinary villagers just like us and our neighbours. They’re just every day people, for the most part,  not gangs of roving marauders who just rode into town. No matter how much we may try to deny it,  they’re middle class folks  who have lost their minds over something that really isn’t all that important.

I think it’s an indication that we’re losing our tenuous grip on civility and perhaps even reality – especially when we’re prepared to punch someone out, vandalize property, burn cars and even kill people over a game or a political debate.

I can’t personally think of too much that would drive me to violence other than defending Maggie and my family although sometimes some really stupid people come close to turning me homicidal. But what would that accomplish in the end other than a fleeting moment of intense satisfaction?

It would prove and resolve nothing, just as all these riots and angst-filled outbursts of adolescent anger have accomplished nothing for anyone. At some point, my friends, we are going to have to decide whether we want to be a civilized people or just pretend we are while secretly harbouring dark desires of storming across the land burning and pillaging every time something happens that we don’t like.


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