Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Play-off Fever

   My country is in the grip of Stanley Cup Fever.  It happens every spring, when the top professional teams begin the run for hockey's greatest prize.  Even those folk, like me, who are only vaguely aware of the game during the regular season, become addicts during the play-offs.  After every game, we dissect each play, commenting on stick-handling, work ethic and refereeing.  We applaud the sweet drop-pass, groan at a turn over and wonder whether the ref has eyes when "our" team is penalized and "theirs" isn't.
    In Canada, lacrosse is our official national summer sport, but hockey is our unofficial winter religion.  Our national newscast leads with a health report on an injured star player.  Tim Horton's coffee allies itself with the game and sales soar. (Eight out of ten cups of coffee sold in Canada are poured at Tim Horton's.)  I just heard an interview with a man who had spent ten thousand ($10.000.00) dollars on shirts, caps and other swag for his home team and they didn't even make the play-offs.
     In some respects, this national obsession with hockey is a good thing.  Canada is a pluralistic society, a hodge-podge of customs and cultures, faiths and factions.  We have two official languages, secular and religious schools.  We have families who've lived in Canada for generations and enclaves of new immigrants, 20%  of whom have neither English nor French as their mother tongue.  We have vast open spaces, crowded cities, mighty rivers and frozen tundra.  In such a diverse country, a unifying force is hard to find but hockey fills the bill.    At a game, the stands hold fans of every race and colour.  They wear ball caps, turbans, hijabs and tuque's.  They all sing the national anthem with gusto and are united in their enthusiasm for the home team.  Amid political scandal, economic uncertainty and cold weather, that unity and enthusiasm cheers my heart.
    On the flip side, I'm twitchy about sport as religion.  I fear that the Stanley Cup has become an idol and my fellow countrymen are breaking the first two commandments in their attachment to it.  The cup is often termed "the holy grail of hockey," and I fear that we seek salvation in its gleaming depths.  We pay million dollar salaries to our hockey heroes while the poor go homeless and hungry save for the compassion of hard-pressed charities.  Too often, violence on the ice is greeted with roars of approval from the crowds.  At such moments, I wonder if I hear echos of the Roman Coliseum where the blood of Christians was shed for the entertainment of a corrupt society, and to divert the populace from serious trouble in the empire.
     Canada and hockey are not alone in this frenzy.  It could just as easily be football in the U.S. or soccer in the U.K. 
    Now, I'm not against organized sport.  It benefits kids and communities, encourages healthy exercise and clear minds.  It teaches cooperation and team spirit.  It fosters civic pride and builds sports complexes for all to share.  It reaches across all barriers, making fans of urban and rural, rich and poor, old and young, men and women.  It encourages dedication and the pursuit of excellence.  It pours money into the economy.  It donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to charities.  It brings life and colour to our long, cold winters and provides endless fodder for water cooler banter on Monday morning.
     I just want us to remember that the god of sport has clay feet.  It cannot heal our grief nor succor our pain.  Our team will lose, if not this year, then next.  The men (and women) on skates cannot bear the weight of all our hope.  Only Jesus Christ, our Mighty Captain, deserves our unswerving loyalty, our adoration and our service.  He alone holds our salvation in his pierced palms.
      Go Canucks go, but
      To God be the Glory.

       So, what's your national obsession? 

Alice Valdal is a writer, knitter, gardener and sometime sports fan.  To read more about her and more of her writing visit www.alicevaldal.com


  1. I'll admit it, I tend to succumb to the fever as much as anyone, since my hubby and son are avid fans, and I was raised in a home where my father was, too...

  2. Nothing wrong with enjoying the fever, Tracy. I just wish we could muster as much enthusiasm for church on Sunday morning. :-)

  3. Alice, I lived in Melbourne for a couple of years and discovered the 'winter religion' of AFL football. The Sunday morning sermon usually started with an AFL analogy or a discussion of the weekend games :)

  4. LOL Narelle. Our minister is a Canucks fan. There are hockey references sprinkled throughout the sermon. He's also a Formula One fan but no one else in the congregation is, so he's had to give up on those analogies. :-)

  5. Narelle, it's not just in Melbourne the support for AFL, there are many of us in NSW just as passionate. One of the first conversations my husband and I have with one of the members of the earlier congregation on Sundays is about the Sydney Swans and their last game and all the ins and outs. And we have heard it from the pulpit in other Sydney churches as well.

  6. Some years ago my husband and I visited the Cook Islands. One Sunday morning their rugby team attended the same church we were at. The prayer from the pulpit was for their success!