Sporting Days in Canada
Yesterday morning, my sports enthusiast mom and I breakfasted on the deck, discussing NHL trades and team loyalties like dudes in baseball caps and hockey jerseys, before heading into the house to watch the Euro Cup final.
I’m not sure when I turned into a couch jock, but somehow over the past few years I’ve found myself starting to “watch certain sporting events,” like some people “only smoke when drinking.”
When I was a kid, I played a lot of sports. Badly, mind you. In fact, I’m convinced the B-teams were created specifically for me. But I always tried to be at least mediocre: gymnastics, ice-skating, soccer, baseball, volleyball. I never excelled at any of them. Sports Day always sort of terrified me. Then I discovered the cool kids who most definitely didn’t “do” sports. The flailing jock couched herself for angst and art.
It never felt possible to reconcile my two interests, and so one had to go. Sports didn’t captivate me like poetry; it wasn’t a difficult choice. But over the years, I started to gravitate back, towards the underdogs and misfits in sports, appreciating again an athlete or team’s all-consuming commitment, and finally allowing myself to be enthusiastic. What I found I admire as much as the skills involved in a good game of whatever: an athlete’s focus.
I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever wanted anything as badly as athletes seem to want cups or medals or world records. A writer or artist isn’t supposed to have such goals if she’s to be taken seriously. But watching the football match between Spain and Germany, I could appreciate the beauty of the footie part of Spain’s game (what the commentators referred to as “classic” football skills and what I knew at 11 years old I would never achieve), and how entirely focused was Spain’s game. It’s kind of refreshing to be able to root for the underdog, especially in a way we don’t for, say, a great, largely unknown writer.
Somewhat surprisingly to me, Canada has never taken to football in the way nearly every other country has embraced it as their beautiful game. Sure, we have hockey; it seems it will forever be ours (and Sweden’s and pretty much the entire Northern Hemisphere’s game), but soccer’s simplicity requires so little for a game happen: a ball and some jackets to act as fence posts, and a few keeners. I’ve often thought this accessible, relatively non-violent team sport should be something Canada, Canadians, would embrace more.
So it pleases me when I see that many do.
Every Sunday, rain or shine, there are two footie games going on in my arty neighborhood. There are the remarkably fit old guys, all about 60 years old, kicking the ball about, cursing in Italian at one another, dramatically falling to the ground at the subtlest hit, or yelling at the ref, and otherwise taking the weekly match very seriously. The other game is more social, with over 40 local twenty-something hairy-hipsters and nouveau Sporty-Spices, sitting around watching or playing a casual game, many with beer in hand as they run and kick for four, five hours or more. In my 20s, we sat in dark pubs talking about music and film for hours on end. We felt more enlightened than cynical.
As I watched the final minutes of the game, thinking about focus and commitment in sport, my mom remarked, as much to herself and the dog as to me, “It must be something to play and win for your country.” Of course, as with all team sports, some of the players aren’t actually from Spain, and each will get over a million Euro dollars for the win.
Misplaced loyalties and money: Maybe the divergence between sport and art begins and ends there.
For Canada Day, I'm going to imagine a country that celebrates and rewards writers the way it does athletes, with parades for bringing home the Man Booker and the O. Henry Cups ("Folks, that Money-Munro is the one to beat!"), and children collecting literary cards with fascinating BRGs (Book Readings Given) and percentages ("Atwood's BRG is at 65%; think she's she in a slump, Timmy?").
However you choose to celebrate, or take it for the team, hope you have a great Canada Day!