Coach's Corner on Iraq war riles viewers, CBC

Don Cherry is used to causing a stir on Coach's Corner, but his pro-American rant on the war in Iraq has created more controversy than the CBC had bargained for.

"The CBC does not feel Hockey Night In Canada is the appropriate place for discussion on the war in Iraq," CBC spokeswoman Ruth-Ellen Soles said Monday.

Soles says CBC Sports executive director Nancy Lee and Hockey Night In Canada executive producer Joel Darling spoke to Cherry, the star of Coach's Corner, and co-host Ron MacLean on Monday.

MacLean, who is set to host the Canadian Sport Awards this week, said that he could not discuss the matter.

"I can't tell you anything," MacLean told Canadian Press. "Nancy is going to meet with me tomorrow. She's asked that we keep it to an internal matter."

As of Monday afternoon, the CBC had received more than 1,000 e-mails and numerous phone calls from viewers reacting to Saturday's Coach's Corner. Hockey discussion forums on the CBC web site, as well as other sites, have been inundated with talk, not about hockey, but Iraq.

CBC ombudsman David Bazay said he had received a "handful of complaints" since Saturday and has sent them along to Lee to address.

"I will wait to see what the viewers say once they've had a response from Ms. Lee," he said. "If they ask me to do a review then I will consider it."

The popular Coach's Corner segment began with Cherry commenting on Montreal Canadiens fans booing the American national anthem last Thursday before a game against the New York Islanders.

Cherry, wearing one of his signature flamboyant ties -- a sparkly one in the colours of the American flag -- did not initially want to get on the topic of war, but after MacLean told him that: "everybody wants to know what you think," Cherry reluctantly complied.

Cherry began his near-seven-minute tirade by apologizing to the U.S. on behalf of Canadians, saying that "years of pride went down the drain" with the Montreal fans' behaviour on Thursday.

The Coach's Corner tandem did not agree on the war in Iraq.

Cherry berated MacLean about being neutral on the subject, then slammed the Canadian government for its "lack of support to our American friends."

"I hate to see them go it alone. We have a country that comes to our rescue, and we're just riding their coattails," Cherry said.

MacLean was steadfast in his opinion that it was Canada's right not to fight.

"Why attack Iraq if they haven't attacked you?" MacLean said.

Aside from contacting CBC directly, sports fans across the country voiced their opinion of the Saturday night dispute, and most didn't agree with it being aired on Hockey Night in Canada.

"I feel basically ripped off," said one caller Monday afternoon to Bob McCown's Prime Time Sports show on The Fan 590, a radio show that airs Canada-wide. He said he expects to hear Cherry and MacLean talk hockey, not politics.

Most of the show's other callers echoed that sentiment.

"There's really no support for Cherry and MacLean in offering their opinions," McCown said. "At least not on that forum."

CBC staff said it wasn't a surprise that the topic came up on Coach's Corner.

"I know they were going to address it but I don't know what form that discussion took," Soles said.

with files from Canadian Press