World·Point of View

Neil Macdonald: Rioting over entertainment? I will never understand hockey

Rioting over a game that is in the end no more significant than bowling is childish and idiotic. I will never get it, says Neil Macdonald.

Oh pampered Canada

I am grateful to hockey. As a CBC employee, I would be foolish not to be. Hockey Night in Canada probably pays a good chunk of my salary.

So, Go Habs Go, and all that.

But I'm not remotely interested in it. I seem to have a missing gene when it comes to organized sports. Televised events bore me and I literally fear the crowds at live matches.

I cycle like a fiend, but I can't even sit through the highlights of the Tour de France.

I once went to a World Cup soccer game in Rome to please an enthusiastic friend, but when the cement abutments started bucking under all the coordinated stamping I fled, handing my ticket to some delighted young fellow outside the arena.

When I was a kid, and the Hockey Night in Canada theme issued from our black-and-white Sylvania TV, I disappeared to the basement to listen to 45s and read the encyclopedias that my parents kept buying from travelling salesmen.

When I was occasionally pressed into watching a game, it always looked more or less like the last one I had seen.

I have also never understood this jingoistic business of cheering madly for your city's team when the highly paid players are rarely even from your city.

So I just don't get it when I hear overheated reporters exclaiming that hockey is "like a religion" in Canada. Or that it's "our essence as Canadians."

And I really don't get this business of the hockey riot.

Pampered Canada hits the streets

I should say here I have covered riots, all over the world, in fact.

Usually they're fuelled by anger, or fear, or desperation. I've covered bread riots, race riots, and riots provoked by nationalist hatred. And once, back in the early '90s, I covered a hockey riot in Montreal.

This week, while some Vancouverites rioted over hockey, demonstrators around the world took to the streets over repression (Syria and Libya), austerity (Greece and Hungary) and schooling, as shown here in a confrontation with police water cannon in Santiago, Chile. (Cristobal Saavedra/Reuters)

I stood in the middle of Ste. Catherine Street, watching working- and middle-class citizens snarling and yelling, overturning cars, breaking windows and setting fires.

I remember staring in disbelief, thinking: "This is about the fortunes of a bunch of rich guys who make a living slapping around a piece of hard rubber?"

From all the reports I've read, the same thing happened in Vancouver.

The rioters weren't all anarchists. Thousands of un-oppressed, well-fed, relatively pampered Canadians took part, or at least stood by cheering.

Most have probably never participated in such a thing before. And when the time came to unleash their outrage, they chose hockey?

Of all the injustices out there, hockey? Really?

Rioting over entertainment

There are really only two reasons I can think of to explain what happened in Vancouver. The first is obvious: Canadians are so bourgeois, so unencumbered by any real problems, that they actually riot over entertainment.

The second is darker. No matter how civilized we think our society is, no matter how democratic, a big chunk of the population still has deep, primordial, violent impulses of the sort that Roman emperors liked to satisfy with regular public bloodbaths.

In other words, Canada has its own version of the vicious, shaven-headed ultranationalist hoodlums — the sort who have "tilt" tattooed on their foreheads — who show up at European soccer matches bent on racist violence.

Wiser people than I have said sports is a civilized substitution for battle. Maybe that is true.

But I tend to go with the first rationale. We're probably just spoiled, foolish and bored.

I remember coming back from the Middle East in the late 1990s, returning to Canada straight from Saddam Hussein's Baghdad via Amman.

As I greedily slurped my Clamato juice (you'd be surprised how hard it is to find that stuff outside Canada), I absorbed the Canadian newspapers on the flight home.

The big issue in Canada at the time was "economic union," a short-lived proposal by Ottawa to rationalize inter-provincial trade by buying off provincial concerns.

Basically, while much of the rest of the world seethed in true misery, Canada's big issue was who got to spend the annual surpluses.

I talked about it to a good friend who had worked in the prime minister's office on policy issues. She remarked that there was nothing wrong with Canada that a good dose of starvation wouldn't cure.

I don't wish hunger on anyone. But I take her point.

Rioting over a game that is in the end no more significant than bowling is childish and idiotic. I will never get it.