CBC Sports

Amateur sportsField of Play: Power and influence in Canadian sport

Posted: Friday, December 14, 2012 | 09:42 AM

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Sidney Crosby is an athlete held in such high regard that he wields a measure of power and influence both on and off the ice (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images). Sidney Crosby is an athlete held in such high regard that he wields a measure of power and influence both on and off the ice (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images).

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CBC Sports is about to reveal its Top 10 most influential people in Canadian sport on Sports Weekend this Saturday. The way I see it, there aren't enough athletes on the list.

CBC Sports is about to reveal its Top 10 most influential people in Canadian sport on Sports Weekend this Saturday. The way I see it, there aren't enough athletes on the list.

At the top, you'll find the NHL commissioner. But there's a union organizer right behind him and a professional baseball executive, too. The head of the Canadian Olympic Committee is front and centre as are the men in the boardrooms of the CFL. Meantime, only three bonafide athletes made the cut, according to our editorial board.

That's because power and influence in sport have, for too long, been defined by what happens on the sidelines.
 
It's evident that money talks and those who have the power to spend it on salaries or dole it out to various national athletes and teams carry the big stick. This has become a widely accepted notion, that sport is nothing if not business.

That's why you tend to find administrators, media moguls and major corporate sponsors on these kinds of lists. Those who pull the strings behind the scenes have a major influence on what the fans eventually see and how sport is presented.

According to this formula, those who patronize sport have little to no power. Do the power brokers pulling the strings during the NHL lockout fiasco really care about the consumer? It's obvious that they don't. They assume that rabid hockey fans will rush back to arenas when play resumes.

In Canada, they may be right. South of the border, in some of the swing states of hockey, well, they just might be looking at an entirely different animal.

So where does all of this leave the stars of sport themselves, the athletes? Ultimately, who has the power to create an iconic sporting moment like Lou Marsh Award winner Christine Sinclair did when she almost singlehandedly put soccer on the map in this country at the London Olympics? The answer is precious few Canadians.

Listen to how the man in charge of the Canadian Soccer Association described Sinclair's effect on sport. 

"That award is a tribute to Christine and her teammates and all they've done in both our national and international sporting communities in 2012," said Peter Montopoli, the CSA's general secretary.

In Halifax, there is further proof of Sinclair's influence. Soccer clinics sold out immediately once parents became aware Sinclair would be there to teach their kids.

"The enthusiasm of parents trying to get the kids into the camp, I don't know how to describe it to you," George Athanasiou of Soccer Nova Scotia told the National Post. "Plenty of people were begging for us to put them into the camp."

Now that's real influence in sport -- the power to motivate young people and make them want to play. 

Further to that, who's been a bigger game changer in hockey than Sidney Crosby? Who sells as many sweaters with his/her name on the back?  When Crosby plays, fans get excited and come to watch.

And who's a better role model than the indomitable speed skater/cyclist Clara Hughes? Very few people can inspire Canadians of all ages and from all walks of life as she can. The same can be said of Milos Raonic, who has sparked a Canadian tennis revival because of his dramatic rise in the world rankings. 

Georges St. Pierre has turned a nation on to UFC and become a champion to millions with his victorious return from injury and to the top of a vicious and uncompromising sport.

Once quarterback Ricky Ray arrived in Toronto, the lamentable Argonauts thought of and then won the 100th Grey Cup in their hometown and captured the imagination of the country's largest and most diverse city.

The point is this: athletes have the ultimate influence by virtue of their performances.

Only the athletes have the power to compete and to win or lose. They send the message. They deliver on the promise. They are the reason the fans watch. Real power in sport only exists because of what transpires on the field of play.

What's On CBC Sports Weekend

CBC Sports Weekend is on the air at 3 p.m. ET this Saturday.

Cross Country World Cup action comes to Canmore, Alta., with the Canadian men led by trailblazers Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw. Olympic gold medalist Chandra Crawford, a Canmore native, is the last Canadian to win on the course in 2008 and is back competing on home snow for the first time in three seasons.

In Europe, the Canadian Cowboys saddle up for a World Cup downhill at Val Gardena, Italy. They're led by reigning world champion Erik Guay, who has looked sharp in training. But they'll have to deal with Norwegian ace Aksel Lund Svindal, who won Friday's super-G by a wide margin.

Plus, our Big Picture panel featuring Jenn Heil, Perdita Felicien and Jonathon Gatehouse of Maclean's magazine tackles the subject of power and influence in sport as CBC Sports reveals it's Top 10 most influential people in Canadian sport.

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