Having been born and raised in North America, the sports that are ‘native’ to me are very different from the sports that would be native to me had I been born and raised in a different part of the world. I grew up watching the Maple Leafs (hockey) and Blue Jays (baseball). I played baseball all the way up to (and for part of) university. The weird thing to me is that when I visit places abroad, it’s not that these sports are foreign (or looked down upon), but that these sports aren’t played and revered in the same way that they are in North America.
For example, when I was living in New Zealand for a few months, it was all about the All Blacks (rugby). In fact, the country kind of “shuts down” when the All Blacks are playing. This doesn’t usually happen in North America. Well, maybe more accurately, it doesn’t usually happen in the US. I know that it definitely happens in Canada. Remember the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver? More specifically, remember the Canada-USA gold medal game? Two-thirds of Canada (22 million people of the 33 million living in Canada) watched Sidney Crosby score the overtime winner.
This whole post was sparked by a couple of ‘global’ sports events. The first, the UEFA Champions League Final. I happened to be in Munich on the day of the game (I’ve never seen so many uniformed and undercover police in one place!) From what I understand, the UEFA Champions League Final is like the Superbowl in the US, but only 5 times bigger. More noteworthy for me is that the Champions League Final usually draws more viewers internationally. This is due, in part, to the teams that play in this league not all being from the same country. Nonetheless, when I’m watching a game like this, I feel like there’s more of a shared community. I can imagine people in Spain watching the game at the same time that people in Russia and Australia are watching the game. Of course, that may be the case with the Superbowl, but I don’t feel it as much.
The second sports event that helped spark this post was Euro 2012. Having an Italian lineage (my last name is STANGHINI), I feel a sense of connection to the country and by extension, the Azzurri. I was really excited when they tied Spain during the group play and then a little worried when they tied Croatia. They went on to beat Ireland to advance to the knockout stage where they then beat England on PKs and handily defeated Germany setting up a rematch of their first game in the group play with Spain in the final. The game seemed close in the 1st half (even though Spain was up 2-0), but once Motta went down with an injury, Spain dominated control of the ball.
Both of these events made me think more about sports on a global level. They made me think (and wish?) for more coverage and (excitement!) from North American countries of international sports events. Yes, baseball is fun and it’s great to see the Blue Jays play the Red Sox or the Yankees, but I really liked the World Baseball Classic when Cuba played the Dominican Republic or the USA played Japan. I really like it when there’s more of an international engagement. Yes, I enjoy a good Leafs game, especially if it’s against the Canadiens, but I get even more excited to watch a Canada-USA game or a Canada-Russia game. The one problem I can see with all of this is that North American countries are simply responding to their customers. That is, the customer wants to watch the NFL or the NHL, so that’s what gets put on the telly.
Although, there has been a decided shift to show more international sports events on TV. For instance, I notice that there is a lot more coverage of cricket on Rogers Sportsnet. Maybe North American countries are moving in this direction. Only time will tell.