Whose National Team? Which Game? A Comparison of Television Coverage of the Canadian Women's, Men's and Sledge Hockey Games at Vancouver 2010

Article excerpt

In Canada, there is a widespread belief that hockey reflects the nation, its history and its people. Despite commercialization, globalization and changes in the Canadian mosaic, this widespread notion retains remarkable endurance. It remains, in the words of Whitson and Gruneau "a story that Canadians tell themselves about what it means to be Canadian." (1) In Canada, the imagined community is often thought to be best represented by 5 men on skates plus a goalie.

We choose the word "men" here purposively. While nationalism is often a unifying force, it masks a number of divides and inequities related to social aspects such as gender, ethnicity, sexuality and class. Not everyone can stand in for the nation, especially in the mediated version. However, in the summer of 2009, Hockey Canada held a training camp where they brought the three national teams (men's, women's and sledge) together, an attempt at overtly emphasizing equality across the three programs. (2) Coming into the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics, Hockey Canada explicitly set its goal as a triple gold medal performance, including the men's, women's and sledge hockey teams. Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson publicly announced that anything less would be considered a disappointment. In light of these efforts, an interesting question becomes how much this was picked up in the media coverage of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

This paper reports on an analysis of television coverage of hockey games involving the Canadian teams, at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympics Games. In view of the nationalism that major international sports events such as the Olympics tend to invoke, and the similar medal pressures faced by each of these teams, any differences in the nature or quality of the coverage speak to notions of which national team matters most, and who really gets to stand in for the country and express notions of national identity.

Hockey, Nationalism and Canadian Identity

Nationalism is an expected outcome in the media coverage coming from just about any broadcaster during the Olympic Games. With Canada hosting the Games, we can expect massive amounts of nationalism in the telecasts, since as media scholar Andrew Billings puts it: "virtually every host nation defers to various 'cheer-leading' tactics when mass-producing the Games, in an attempt to maximize ratings." (3) In Canada, one form of cheer-leading is heavily promoting hockey, considered the national game.

Arguments for hockey as a key part of Canadian identity date back to the early 20th century. In a young nation struggling to find collective national symbols, hockey provided a common reference point. There is a vast popular literature that stresses hockey as Canadian, as "our game" and an integral part of being Canadian. Gruneau and Whitson circumscribed the "core features" of Canadian hockey mythology as follows:

   Hockey is our game; it expresses something distinctive about how we
   Canadians have come to terms with our unique northern environment
   and landscape; it is a graphic expression of "who we are;" the
   game's rough masculinity is testament to the distinctive passion
   and strength of the Canadian character; we are better at it than
   anyone else in the world; and the National Hockey League is the
   pinnacle of the game--and a prominent Canadian institution. (4)

Canadian hockey mythology leaves out many--immigrants with no prior attachment to the game, the many women who had little opportunity to play until the last two decades, or the many men who could not or did not participate for reasons of economics, culture or interest. (5) Such notions also obscure the heavily commercial nature of the game and its American connections. (6) Despite the problems and absences, nationalism and notions of "hockey as Canadian" are heavily promoted discourses with the media covering major tournaments involving national teams. …


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