By Alvin Ma
At a recent conference, I presented on Asians in my university’s kinesiology program and drew upon the “Proud Fathers” commercial from Tim Hortons (Mark Norman has also written about this commercial on this blog). Tim Hortons initially ran that ad during the 2006 Winter Olympics and followed up with another multicultural ad entitled “Welcome Home” during the 2010 Winter Olympics. From Tim Hortons’ marketing standpoint, it seems like the Olympics can serve as the visual site of cultural integration. While American statistics indicate that ethnic minorities disproportionately watch less of the Olympics, the Nielsen ratings do not categorize by the type of sport in the Olympic Games. With the NHL already holding the “least diverse” audience distinction in the United States, it is a low bar for the Olympics to surpass the NHL in ethnic minority viewership.
In the Canadian context, with a reported 26.5 million (80% of all Canadians) watching at least part of the men’s hockey gold medal game – smashing all previous records of hockey viewership – it can be inferred that many non-traditional fans watched hockey for the first time. In the non-traditional fans group are those who belong to an ethnic minority, and of those people categorized, some might have become hockey fans. Of those newly-turned hockey fans, some might not have the resources to participate themselves. It would be incorrect to say that ethnic minorities are, as a generalized block, poor. At the same time, the people participating, particularly those at the high-performance level, are not always indicative of the broader demographics.
While immense caution should be taken to not interchange the word “ethnic minority” with “immigrant,” research suggests that the participation rate of immigrants in sport is much lower than the one of non-immigrants. A research paper for Statistics Canada reported in 2005 that the participation rate of recent immigrants is 27 percent, three percentage points below the Canadian-born rate. Immigrants who came to Canada before 1990 were even participating less in sport with a rate of only 19 percent. Moreover, the same study looked at the participation rate of children of recent immigrants who had been in Canada for less than ten years and states that they are less likely to participate in sports, at the rate of 32 percent, than children of Canadian-born parents, at the rate of 55 percent.
In general, official ice hockey participation has declined significantly despite Olympic gold medal success, which supports the findings of research that downplay the trickle-down effect of elite sport success translating into mass sport popularity. While I am still comparatively an optimist in the field of sport policy, I recognize that much more of an emphasis needs to be placed on local and global legacies that foster amateur participation with an equitable focus on inactive marginalized individuals and groups. As the champion of Olympism Pierre de Coubertin notes in French: “L’important dans la vie ce n’est point le triomphe, mais le combat, l’essentiel ce n’est pas d’avoir vaincu mais de s’être bien battu.”
To summarily provide a take-away translation that relates back to Tim Hortons and the Timbits Hockey motto: “The first goal is having fun.”