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Soccer hot, hockey not: The death of hockey?

The death of hockey?

Despite the Edmonton Oilers making it to the Stanley Cup finals, Canada’s national sport is taking a swift kick in the butt, and not just because World Cup soccer begins on June 9.

"One day hockey may no longer be Canada’s national sport," says expert demographer Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies (ACS). "My polls show there is no common sport any more that unites Canadians in all regions. In the absence of [NHL] hockey, you find baseball and curling is doing well in the Maritimes, football is doing well in Quebec, and basketball and soccer are doing well in Ontario. In the Prairies, it’s curling by far, and in B.C., it’s still hockey."

The changing face of Canadian sport, Jedwab says, is mainly due to immigration patterns. "A lot of communities that are arriving here, the sports they are interested in are not always the ones that are traditional to Canada," Jedwab explains. "Soccer is one of the fastest-growing sports in Canada. And if you’re Nike or another sports enterprise in Canada right now, if you don’t put skates on a lot of these kids from South Asia and China, then you better think about manufacturing soccer balls and soccer equipment."

The role of Canada’s visible minorities in the world of pro sports will be examined at the ACS’s one-day national symposium at McGill on June 27. The event will also commemorate the 60th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking pro baseball’s colour barrier with the Montreal Royals in 1946, before Robinson was called up to the major league Brooklyn Dodgers the following year.

"There will continue to be a smorgasbord of sports in [Canada's] future," explains expert demographer Jedwab, who wrote the widely acclaimed 1996 book Jackie Robinson’s Unforgettable Season of Baseball in Montreal and also teaches a course on pro sports at McGill. "Some sports will have trouble surviving. Soccer is popular because it’s relatively inexpensive. Hockey, on the other hand, is expensive and will have to adjust its marketing and outreach to young people if it wants to stay competitive."

Adds Jedwab, "No one would ever have predicted the death of the Expos 20 years ago, or the [NBA] Grizzlies in British Columbia. But Canada is a small-market country. If you don’t want to lose your base you have to adapt to a changing environment."

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  • by Sophie Verville - June 1, 2006, 12:12 pm

    True, soccer is less expensive, but most leagues are organized throughout the summer season which leaves more place for hockey during the year. Hockey in Canada is a culture, a tradition that I doubt will end. This season NHL hockey has been more popular than ever, with ticket sales increasing as well as revenus. Leagues, both male and female, are created each year. I admit that other sports have been gaining popularity among minor leagues, like football and baseball, but hockey will surely remain our National sport for a while. Let’s just hope Edmonton brings the cup back home this year!

  • by Ronny Pangia - June 1, 2006, 3:28 pm

    As long as there will be long cold winters will there be hockey in Canada. Although there has been a recent surge in popularity in soccer I cannot see the sport becoming our main past time. The months to play European football on a green field are too few this prohibiting us from developing standout players. The reason I emphasize this is that we ultimately need sports figures as heroes and hockey remains our gateway to superstardom. Promoting local homegrown talent is easier when the conditions are ideal. The NHL is getting it right in promoting the likes of Sidney Crosby to put a face on our national sport.
    And besides, we all know that for true soccer we must look towards the European leagues or our South American counterparts to see an increased level of play.
    Nevertheless, we must continue to promote physical activity for our youth with obesity becoming our main problem. So hockey dads continue spending your weekends in the rinks and soccer moms picking up your children in their SUVs!
    Lastly, FORZA ITALIA at the World Cup!

  • by Vlad Visan - June 1, 2006, 6:01 pm

    Soccer will most of, prevail worldwide. Canada is seeing such a change its national sport due to the fact that more, and more immigrants move in. It is well known that Europe is dominated by soccer, and so when Europeans decide to join our Canadian family they bring their own culture with them. On top of that, it is much cheaper to pick up soccer than to buy all the gear for hockey. Soccer’s safer too. Nevermind it can be played during all seasons and by everyone.
    Thinking of profitabily, soccer is bound to attract more tourists than any other sport. Ticket sales will sky-rocket and the Canadian economy will boom for a short term, at least.
    Hockey is more of a culture thing. It lost it’s significance as time rolled about. Even Asia switched to this prolific sport, proving how strong it has been influenced by the neighbours in Europe. Football, or as we call it, Soccer, will take over and provide us with something to cheer and be proud of our nationality all year long.

  • by Mark St Pierre - June 1, 2006, 7:07 pm

    Well, it’s obvious that soccer is on the up-swing but I wouldn’t necessarily say that it would be at the expense of hockey (or is this just wishful thinking on my part?) Sure shifting demographics are something ta bear in mind but the game is such an entrenched part of our cultural identity that I can’t see it fading anytime soon. All the same, people – don’t forget to spread the gospel of our national past-time to any and all curious newcomers to the Great White North!!!

  • by Stephen Talko - June 2, 2006, 7:53 am

    Ice hockey is popular in Canada because of our cold winters but it is not the only kind of hockey played in the world. Field hockey played indoors and out requires far less costly equipment and less skill to play. There are clubs and associations across Canada but the sport has a very low profile. It could be played in regular soccer fields which are all the rage in Canada. And lastly I cannot neglect underwater hockey which is still a niche sport. Though the action is much slower because of water inertia.

  • by Zachary Masoud - June 2, 2006, 3:21 pm

    I would not say that hockey is dying in Montreal, but, I do not think that hockey is as great in Montreal as it was, let us say, 30 years ago. I think an interesting thing to note is that back then, Canadians, specially the Montreal Canadiens, absolutely dominated in hockey and people constantly supported them. We were the best and that is why to this day, the Montreal hockey franchise is the franchise with the most Stanley Cups and in some ways, the most respect. However, nobody would deny that today, we are not the strongest ones. In general, with the exception of the success of the Edmonton Oilers in this year’s Stanley Cup, the Canadian hockey teams are not necessarily the strongest. Let alone, the players that make up our teams are generally not Canadian. For example, in our Montreal team, the strongest players would be Saku Koivu, Alexei Kovalev, and Crostobal Huet; none of which are Montrealers at heart.
    Canada, in general, is one of the most multi-ethnic countries in the world. It is a fact that soccer is the world sport and it has been brought to Canada. We have all played in a junior soccer league and during the World Cup, all people support their origin countries. Soccer is huge here, and with the rise in ethnicity and culture in these parts, do not be surprised if it begins to take over. Also, I find there has been a rise in the NBA popularity in Canada. My hypothesis to that would be a little fellow known as Steve Nash, a Canadian Male who has been voted MVP a couple of times now. Ultimately, we were once a hockey nation but now, not only are we filled with culture, but our passions are changing as well. Hockey will always be in our hearts but it may one day not be the most important sport for us.

  • by Charles Montpetit - June 3, 2006, 5:26 am

    “If you’re Nike or another sports enterprise in Canada right now, if you don’t put skates on a lot of these kids from South Asia and China, then you better think about manufacturing soccer balls and soccer equipment.” Uh, last I heard, Nike wasn’t trying to put sporting equipment on Asian kids, it was paying them slave wages to *make* them. Yes, that campaign is far from over: see http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/sweatshops/nike/ for the latest updates. Or check out http://www.toolness.com/nike/ for a cool pro-sweatshop parody (“Nike SweatshopsT-unlocking the power of poverty”).

  • by Martin Dansky - June 4, 2006, 10:02 am

    I can’t think of hockey as dying as much as I can think of other forms of hockey prevailing. Just because ice hockey has become so popular the world over because of Canadian input, doesn’t make it some kind of fantastic unifying force. There are other sports which are just as national though not as universal.
    The population of Canada doesn’t seem to be growing as fast as the idea of playing soccer is catching on with new Canadians and many are bringing their national sport when they get to Canada. If the number of Hispanics in Montreal is high compared to 40 years ago, so is their preference for soccer. The aura of winning Stanley Cups won’t die out that quickly neither will the desire to see new legends match the older, now deceased ones like Maurice Richard. As long as we have long winters, hockey on ice is going to prevail, perhaps with less popularity, who knows?

  • by Pedro Eggers - June 4, 2006, 5:21 pm

    “One day hockey may no longer be Canada’s national sport.”–expert demographer Jack Jedwab.
    Bull! It’s nice that he’s got all of these stats and numbers to back him up but let’s face facts here–Canada’s soul is hockey. We may come to embrace other sports and other cultures but we will always be who we are. Every nation has a pulse, has a nature, has something that is distinct and steady that not even the worst of times can erase. Hockey took a major hit with the lock-out/strike but hockey still endures in the hearts and minds of millions up here. You think you can wipe out baseball from the soul of Uncle Sam or soccer from South America? Sorry Mr. Jedwab but the end is not nigh and the sky isn’t falling just yet. True, Canada is changing and our sports fans are evolving but hockey is in our DNA. Just ask Don Cherry.

  • by Carolina Correa - June 6, 2006, 9:17 pm

    Coming from a country that lives and breathes soccer, and coincidentally is playing the first game of the world cup against Germany… I would love for the canadian soccer team to become a major contender internationally. It’s really exciting to see your team on the international stage… its a little bit like the olympics but a million times more exciting! I wonder why the sport hasn’t taken off yet since a lot of kids start off playing soccer here at such a young age… but anyway, I’m sure the trend will catch on and Canada will be playing in the finals against Costa Rica in four years ;)…

  • by Raf Matthyssen - June 6, 2006, 10:19 pm

    A sport’s a sport. I know that living in Montreal, the town where the Canadiens rule, it can be almost sacrilegious to say such a thing but I have no problem following many sports equally. Growing up a enjoyed participating in many of them. As a younger kid though hockey was everything and the Habs were the team to follow. With the years I started appreciating baseball, football, tennis, soccer… With the local professional hockey club being so inconsistent my interest in the sport has surely diminished a little. But over the last year I have seen many very exciting NHL games. Last night’s game one of the finals sure was one of those games. All this to say, even though my interest in the sport comes and goes a little over time I know it will never die. I also cannot wait for the World Cup (soccer) to start, it never dissapoints in it’s drama and excitement. All sports have the ability to make so many feelings come to the surface, be it joy, sadness, anger… What can I say, it’s the greatest show on earth.

  • by Ricky Smith - June 13, 2006, 4:04 pm

    I am not a big hockey fan. I started watching sports around the age of 8 when the Blue Jays were winning world series, and then the Raptors came into town and I became a hardcore basketball fan. I played soccer all my life and I love the sport, but don’t follow EPL teams or anything. I agree, hockey is not going to be our national sport after a few decades. Kids over here (in the toronto area) are playing basketball and more basketball, sure there are people playing hockey in Ice Arena’s but I have not seen kids play street hockey in years. I think it’s great that other sports are being embraced because Hockey isn’t for everyone and people who aren’t big hockey fans have to listen to all the media talk about it. It shouldn’t be our national sport because it is far too niche and sports are meant to bring us civic pride. I wish we were competiting in the world cup… but hey we are awesome in the world cup of hockey, but very little peope, if anyone, outside of canada cares.
    I know in Toronto, it is not the same toronto that it was in the 1940s in terms of the sports landscape. Hockey isn’t the only sport in town now.

  • by Laura Johnson - October 20, 2006, 10:02 pm

    Damn you soccer!! I play soccer…but my love is hockey. I’m a true Canadian. I hope all of this doesn’t happen in the future, because hockey is our sport and I love it with all my heart. I play rep soccer but I love hockey more. Hockey is probably the most exciting sport to watch. It has so much action..unlike soccer, or golf. I find soccer so boring to watch. Really though, nothing makes me happier than watching hockey. I hope the world can just watch one hockey game, so they could see for themselves. I hope the immigrants can try to be like us more, and grasp our culture, so they could see what an awesome sport hockey really is. Soccer is cheaper, but it’s so serious, its unbelievable. Hockey, yeah it gets serious, but they realize, that the kids are doing it for fun. I love hockey, and I hope this doesn’t happen.

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