“Don’t Play With the Dictator”: Politics and the 2014 World Hockey Championships in Belarus (Repost)

Editor’s note: This piece was originally posted on Hockey in Society on October 14, 2013. It was also published by Left Hook Journal on October 20, 2013. With the 2014 International Ice Hockey Federation’s Men’s World Hockey Championships kicking off today in Belarus, we are reposting this article as it is still a highly relevant reminder of the political controversies and power struggles going on behind the scenes of this hockey tournament.

Sporting mega-events such as the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games, despite claims by their organizers and boosters about the political neutrality of sport, are deeply enmeshed in political structures. In recent months, a number of these high profile events have drawn the ire of political activists, citizens, and some media precisely because of their political implications. Consider the following examples:

Each of these examples highlights some of the ways that sport is enmeshed in, and can contribute to, unequal power relations between individuals and groups in various societies around the world. Thankfully, sport mega-events are increasingly coming under public scrutiny and are having their politics examined in the press. However, there are many other examples of sport contributing to social injustice that are happening on a smaller scale. One such event, which has gained relatively little media attention (especially in North America), is the upcoming 2014 Men’s World Hockey Championships in Belarus.

Read more of this post

Weekly Links: Sochi reactions and news; Marginalization of female hockey fans; Buffalo building massive downtown hockey complex

Welcome to Hockey in Society’s Weekly Links post. This feature highlights articles or blog entries that are related to Hockey in Society’s areas of interest and that may be of interest to the site’s readers. Please check out some of the great writing that is happening in the hockey media and blogosphere!

  • I just discovered the blog Puckology this week, and it’s pretty great! This article from Clare Austin gives an insightful commentary of how women hockey fans are rendered invisible in marketing. [Puckology]
  • New Englander Charles Pierce reflects on a lifetime of Montreal Canadiens fandom, including comments on Habs legends Jean Beliveau and Ken Dryden. [Grantland]
  • The Ontario Hockey League is stepping up its compensation package for its players, which is huge news. Check out Vicky Grygar’s great piece on this topic that was published on this blog last year for another take. [Sportsnet]
  • In light of Nicklas Backstrom’s failed drug test, which caused him to miss the men’s Gold Medal game between Sweden and Canada, Justin Bourne discusses prescription drug (ab)use in hockey. [Backhand Shelf]
  • Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin were apparently extremely frustrated with the management of Russia’s Olympic team in Sochi. Some really interesting commentary on the politics of the KHL and Russian hockey. [Pittsburgh TribLive]

Read more of this post

“Don’t Play With the Dictator”: Politics and the 2014 World Hockey Championships in Belarus

Sporting mega-events such as the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games, despite claims by their organizers and boosters about the political neutrality of sport, are deeply enmeshed in political structures. In recent months, a number of these high profile events have drawn the ire of political activists, citizens, and some media precisely because of their political implications. Consider the following examples:

Each of these examples highlights some of the ways that sport is enmeshed in, and can contribute to, unequal power relations between individuals and groups in various societies around the world. Thankfully, sport mega-events are increasingly coming under public scrutiny and are having their politics examined in the press. However, there are many other examples of sport contributing to social injustice that are happening on a smaller scale. One such event, which has gained relatively little media attention (especially in North America), is the upcoming 2014 Men’s World Hockey Championships in Belarus.

Read more of this post

The KHL as Cartel Buster? Ilya Kovalchuk, the Kontinental Hockey League, and the Challenge to the NHL’s Control of Labour Conditions

The (North American) hockey world was shocked yesterday to learn that superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk was retiring from the National Hockey League and, according to subsequent reports, planning to sign with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League. Today, it was announced that he has signed with the KHL club for four years. Kovalchuk’s decision is of interest to hockey fans for numerous reasons, including obviously fans of his now-former NHL team the New Jersey Devils, SKA St. Petersburg, and the KHL. However, it is also a fascinating development in the labour rights of hockey players – particularly concerning the binding nature of contracts and the right to labour mobility.

This post examines Kovalchuk’s NHL career and retirement, explores notable criticisms of the player’s actions by Don Cherry and Jeremy Roenick, and finally discusses whether the competition between the KHL and NHL poses a threat to the NHL’s ability to control the labour conditions of its athletes.

Read more of this post

Weekly Links: NHLPA and owners begin CBA negotiations; Social media and hockey analytics; Plans for new arena in Markham

Proposed Markham arena (Image from: http://www.cbc.ca/)

Welcome to Hockey in Society’s Weekly Links post. This feature highlights articles or blog entries that are related to Hockey in Society’s areas of interest and that may be of interest to the site’s readers.

Hockey Links

  • Lots of chatter about the discussion between NHL owners the NHL Players’ Association as they begin to negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. David Shoalts has a good overview of the key issues in this negotiation. [Globe and Mail]
  • Meanwhile, Kukla’s Corner has the details of the NHLPA’s 31-man negotiating committee. Lots of prominent players are involved on the committee, including Henrik Zetterberg (Red Wings), Shane Doan (Phoenix Coyotes), Shea Weber (Nashville Predators, and John Tavares (New York Islanders). [Kukla’s Corner]
  • Hockey in Society contributor Sunil Agnihotri discusses information overload in the digital age, with specific discussion of the various ways in which hockey fans can consume the sport through (new) media. [Super Fan. 2.0]
  • More social media news: the Detroit Red Wings are hosting a social media meet-up at the Social Media Day Detroit conference. [Kukla’s Corner]
  • Daniel Wagner reports on “the next stage in hockey analytics,” discussing an advanced stats tracking system that is becoming popular in the NBA. [Backhand Shelf]
  • The plans for the new hockey arena in Markham, ON have been released. The 20,000+ seat arena is aiming to open 2014 and hoping to host the 2015 World Junior Championships. [TSN]
  • Bruce Dowbiggen reports that the NHL is considering adding a Sunday night Canadian broadcast in addition to the traditional Saturday Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. This may mean that the CBC maintains the HNIC rights while TSN and Sportsnet have the opportunity to broadcast more games featuring Canadian teams. [Globe and Mail]
  • An interesting post by Greg Wyshinki about Sidney Crosby’s new 12-year contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and how the team is unable to insure it because of Crosby’s concussion history. [Puck Daddy]
  • Pete Cunningham writes about the anticipated economic impact of the 2013 Winter Classic for Ann Arbor businesses. The game between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs will take place on January 1, 2013. [AnnArbor.com]
  • Patrick Hoffman with an interesting look at hockey participation and popularity in sunbelt states, including some interesting tidbits about the support NHL hockey teams have given to local hockey teams. The Nashville Predators, for example, were active in the movement to save the University of Alabama-Hunstsville Division 1 NCAA hockey program. [Kukla’s Corner]
  • The KHL confirms that it will play two regular season games in 2013 in Brooklyn, New York. SKA St. Petersburg and Dynamo Moscow will face off at the new Barclays Arena. [Puck Daddy]
  • The Phoenix Coyotes sale looks set to move ahead, as a court overturns the lawsuit by the Goldwater Institute to stymie Glendale’s subsidization of the Coyotes’ arena. Lots of politics in this arena situation. [Puck Daddy]
  • I hope to write more about this on this blog, but I wrote a post at Nucks Misconduct about Pavel Bure and his legacy with the Vancouver Canucks. The post is not particularly critical, but more of a fan’s look at the player. However, there are some interesting aspects to the story. Bure, who was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame this week, had a turbulent departure from Vancouver that involved some character assassination in the media. An interesting example of the power of the media to shape popular understandings of a player and his/her legacy. [Nucks Misconduct]

General Sport Links

  • AWESOME BLOG ALERT: Tyler Shipley has started a new blog called Left Hook, which takes a critical look at different aspects of sport. You can read Tyler’s excellent post about the politics between Canada and Honduras and the role of soccer in Honduran politics. [Left Hook]
  • Also on Left Hook: Marty Clark, who co-authored a review of Goon on this blog, examines and critiques assumed “truths” in sport and discusses way of deconstructing these “common sense” understandings. A great read. [Left Hook]
  • Hockey in Society contributor Courtney Szto discusses the gender implications of nude athlete calendars, as Canada’s National Senior Women’s Rugby team releases a fundraising calendar. Are these portrayals empowering or exploitative? Should national sport teams have to resort to nude calendars to raise funds? Lots of interesting questions explored in this post. [The Rabbit Hole]
  • Saudi Arabia will, for the first time, allow women to compete at the Olympic Games. [Globe and Mail]

Hockey violence and the 2012 NHL playoffs: Why a moral panic won’t change the NHL’s cultural tolerance of violence

There has been no shortage of ink spilled in the past weeks about the surprising and upsetting levels of violence that have characterized the 2012 NHL playoffs thus far – including insightful posts from Hockey in Society’s E. Martin Nolan about psychosocial understandings of hockey violence and the fantastical nature of “hatred” between players.

NHL VP of Player Safety Brendan Shanahan has certainly been a busy man during these playoffs, handing down suspensions to eight players and fining two other players. The standard of discipline has varied wildly, with Shea Weber getting just a $2,500 fine for slamming Henrik Zetterberg’s head into the boards and Raffi Torres receiving a 25-game suspension for a leaping hit that sent Marian Hossa off the ice on a stretcher. The level of violence, which to most observers seems unusually high even for the emotionally-charged playoff season, has created a moral panic about the state of hockey and an unsurprising bevy of counterarguments from entrenched interests in the sport. At the same time, television ratings have soared in spite (or because) of the on-ice violence.

While I sympathize with the crusaders at the vanguard of the moral panic, my optimism about their ability to fundamentally alter NHL hockey is limited. As this post will explore, the NHL has a tightly controlled and insular culture that militates against outside interference. While some influential media members may hold some sway in the NHL boardrooms, it is hard not to see the league swatting away much of the outrage with minimal damage to its brand or popular integrity.

Read more of this post

Blowing Off Steam with Shea Weber and the Vancouver Rioters

Do the NHL Playoffs Facilitate Catharsis?

How does this make you feel? (from the Detroit Free Press)

Shea Weber knew he’d be hit, even though the game was over. Henrik Zetterberg went after it like it was midway through the period, like he’d actually be able to make a play. So Weber slams his head into the glass, twice. But let’s not dwell on that. Let’s dwell on the intensity of the play. Zetterberg was going after the puck with such hopeless vigour because, in Weber’s words, “it’s the playoffs,” and so you never, ever let up. Zetterberg had to fight for that puck in the corner to maintain playoff intensity going into the next game.

Likewise, the fans watch playoff games with increased intensity. It is logical to think of this sudden increase in fan attention and focus as in some way being cathartic. After all, we’ve followed our team through the whole, long season, and if we’re lucky, the playoffs emerge as a reward for our loyalty. Now, the games are so important that each goal, each play, takes on momentous importance, and the thrill of the game subsequently increases. It would seem to follow, then, that a playoff game offers us increased emotional relief, also known as catharsis. Because we care more, we pour more of ourselves into our watching, and the expected result is that such watching would exhaust our banked emotions, and in particular our pent-up aggression. Or so the common thinking goes.  Read more of this post