Sports·Year In Review

Seminal moments on, off field-of-play mark unforgettable 2022 for Canadian athletes

Wedged in between a Winter Games and a men's World Cup for the ages, there were seminal moments in 2022 that we should not forget about or lose track of. Perhaps, writes CBC Sports' Devin Heroux, the most impactful moments this year came off the field-of-play.

Reckoning of Canada's sport system was flanked by historic athletic accomplishments

A trio of athletes are visible in a three-panel composite image.
Teenage swimming sensation Summer McIntosh, left, Winter Paralympic legend Brian McKeever, centre, and tennis star Felix Auger-Aliassime are three athletes who punctuated an unforgettable 2022 for Canadians in sport. (Getty Images)

It all seems a bit of a blur, doesn't it?

This year, not just in sports but generally, seemed to fly by.

When people talk about the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics being just 10 months ago, I still can't wrap my head around it.

In many ways, because of the pandemic the last three years have made it hard to know when things actually happened — was it this year? Before the pandemic? How long were we locked down anyway?

Wedged in between a Winter Games and a men's World Cup for the ages, there were seminal moments we should not forget about or lose track of.

And perhaps the most impactful moments of 2022 came off the field of play.

In the early days of COVID-19 when we were locked away in our homes and athletes trained in basements and backyard pools, and the pros gathered in bubbles to ultimately lift a trophy and complete another season, there were rumblings of athlete activism.

The voices of athletes were growing louder in the silence of empty stadiums and arenas.

And many people wondered what would happen when the games, with packed venues, started up again.

Would we all forget the important conversations happening around athlete safety and well-being? Would we still care about Black Lives Matter and racism in sport? Would we care about LGTBQ issues and making sport inclusive for all?

There was a part of the old establishment that just wanted to move on, to get back to how things used to be. That was perfectly personified through the actions of Hockey Canada.

With the public, Members of Parliament, and sponsors demanding answers, Hockey Canada was silent.

In June, Hockey Canada's access to public funds was frozen by the federal government over its response to an alleged sexual assault and subsequent out-of-court settlement. Sponsorships were pulled.

WATCH | Hockey Canada and members unanimously vote to bring bylaw changes:

Hockey Canada to implement bylaw changes following scandal

8 months ago
Duration 1:41
Hockey Canada and its members voted unanimously to bring in bylaw changes meant to improve how the organization selects a new board of directors as part of efforts to repair its broken reputation.

It was bad, and in a lot of ways represented the days of yesteryear when the answer was "well that's the way we've always done it."

That's not good enough anymore.

Change at Hockey Canada eventually came but this situation and creating a healthy space is far from resolved.

As the Hockey Canada scandal played out, hundreds of Canadian athletes, past and present, from gymnastics, boxing, bobsled and skeleton kept the pressure on, demanding change within their national sport organizations, citing toxic and abusive environments.

Courageous and brave athletes shared their stories of abuse. The toll of it all evident when they spoke publicly. Canada's sports minister called it a crisis. It's not going away overnight either.

As I write this there are still many in the sports landscape in Canada still desperate for an inquiry into safe sport in the country.

In the quiet and waiting of the pandemic athletes have become empowered unlike any other time in sport — if they don't take to the field or court or ice, the show doesn't go on. All of this, as painful as it has been for so many, has truly changed the game and has allowed athletes to see they can use their privileged platform for good and that people are paying attention to what they have to say.

While much of this year will be remembered for the reckoning in Canada's sport system and the sportwashing that took place in the oppressive countries of China and Qatar, there were still so many moments of history and accomplishment.

Indelible moments, unforgettable year

Felix Auger-Aliassime and Canadian tennis ascended to new levels — the country's first-ever Davis Cup win put an exclamation point on an extraordinary season for Canadians.

Canada took 26 trips to the podium to collect 14 bronze, 8 silver and 4 gold medals during the 2022 Olympics — women's hockey gold a highlight to be sure with Northern Star winner for Canada's athlete of the year, Marie-Philip Poulin, scoring another winner.

WATCH | Relive every Canadian medal from 2022 Winter Games in Beijing:

Of note, one of my favourite moments during those Games, was when Abigail Strate, 20, Alexandria Loutitt, 18, Matthew Soukup, 24, and Mackenzie Boyd-Clowes, 30, captured bronze in the first-ever mixed team ski jumping competition.

It was Canada's first medal ever in the sport.

The great Canadian Paralympian Brian McKeever said goodbye to competition by going out the way he only knows how, by winning three gold medals in Beijing. In total, he won 20 medals across six Paralympics, 16 of which were gold.

WATCH | Canada's McKeever races to gold in final solo Paralympic race:

Just ahead of those Paralympics, in a wicked 48-hour newscycle, it was ruled Russian and Belarusian athletes would not be able to compete in the Games as war broke out in Ukraine.

In a dramatic about-face, the International Paralympic Committee changed its decision to allow athletes to compete as neutrals to outright banning Russian and Belarusian athletes.

"The war has now come to these Games and behind the scenes many governments are having an influence on our cherished event," IPC President Andrew Parsons said.

Brad Gushue and his team, after winning bronze at the Olympics, won another Brier — they did it with just three players in the title game after third Mark Nichols got COVID.

The Canadian men clinched a World Cup berth for Canada for the first time in 36 years.

Swimming teen sensation Summer McIntosh made her first massive international splash in the pool having won ten medals between worlds and the Commonwealth Games.

WATCH | Summer McIntosh caps remarkable year with World Cup, Canadian record:

Canada's McIntosh sets World Cup and Canadian record in 400-metre freestyle

7 months ago
Duration 6:21
Summer McIntosh of Toronto swam to a time of 3:52.80 to capture gold at the World Cup event in Toronto.

Serena Williams and Roger Federer said goodbye to tennis. WNBA star Britney Griner came home.

Argentina defeated France to win the men's World Cup in a heart-stopping finish.

These lists could go on forever.

There is so much to love about sports. And in so many ways it has the power to unify in a way not much else does. We saw that during the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics. We saw that most recently during that epic men's World Cup final.

Joyous scenes on the streets of Buenos Aires, that drone shot perfectly capturing the mass of jubilant humanity, articulated what sport can mean to people and a country.

But in those celebrations there has been this underlying residue of knowing the price it took in the host countries to allow for these moments of celebration elsewhere.


Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.

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