As a young man, I was completely unaware of just how cultural the sporting events we shared together truly were. In actuality, I really had no idea what an enormous part sports plays in Canadian culture until I left Canada behind and began my 14 year global trek of discovery. More than forty countries later and I still could not find a single nation, let alone a region, in which sports played such a central figure in cultural, national, municipal and even individual identity. When newcomers arrive in Canada they are often caught off guard at how much time we spend talking about sports, how many people and their kids participate in at least one sport if not several, and how pro teams like the Flames and the Stampeders are on the front page of the newspapers and mean so much to so many people.
From learning how to play a new sport, to building new relationships at their own or their children’s sporting events, to cheering for Canada’s Olympic athletes, newcomers to Canada often talk of how their involvement in sports makes them feel very much connected to Canadian life. Sports are more than just sports in Canada. They have the ability to connect people from different heritages and ethnicities, while providing a safe environment to explore different cultures. For newcomers to Canada, playing and even watching sports with native or more established Canadians provides the chance to share and engage others about Canada, its culture and its history, helping them learn more about Canadian society and feel more at home. And when Canadians show interest in the sports newcomers most enjoy, the unifying power of sports is revealed.
It is due to this vast reach, unparalleled popularity and foundation of positive values, sport is ideally positioned to contribute towards the United Nations’ objectives for development and peace. To raise awareness of this potential, April 6th was declared as the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace by the UN General Assembly. The adoption of this Day signifies the increasing recognition by the United Nations of the positive influence that sport can have on the advancement of human rights, and social and economic development. This is why we're lucky to have the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame right there in Calgary and if you haven't I urge you to go check it out.
Often when a team is successful it pulls together a community or city, as the Flames did two springs ago here in Calgary. With the Stanley Cup Playoffs set to begin, millions of people will be on their edge of their seats from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island, the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the sleepy prairie town of Two Hills to the metropolis of Toronto, and in doing an entire nation will be pulled together. When the playoffs start I will look to my right and see my grandfather, think of how lucky I was to make and share such memories with him. And this time… I will also think about how lucky I am to be Canadian.