Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Violence on and off the ice
When I was in Vancouver in the early days of the Stanley Cup playoffs, I could feel something like this coming. It was in the air following Canucks games, an unsafe atmosphere that was starting to build.
All the ingredients were in place for the riots Wednesday night. Win or lose, something terrible was bound to happen.
A massive industry has been selling hyper-masculinity through alcohol and Canucks iconography since the spring, and it sucked anything resembling reality out of the Stanley Cup playoffs months ago.
Let us put this in perspective: Hockey is played by multi-millionaires who skate very, very well, but frequently hurt or fight one another while officials watch and fans cheer. They are amazing athletes, but Canadian hockey is defined through an adolescent, Don Cherry-style reactive understanding of violence.
Why are we surprised when the fans mimic the sport?
We now must look critically at hockey's subculture that extends well beyond a night of rioting.
The Vancouver police department crime statistics for April 2011, when playoff fever started, show a 28.3 per cent increase in assaults in District 1, which contains the most sports bars, just over double the city's average -- which itself had increased 14.1 per cent.
April 2011 statistics also show sexual assaults in Vancouver increased 36.1 per cent, but 133.3 per cent in District 1.
Similar rises in crime coincided with Olympic hockey in Vancouver in 2010. One Vancouver anti-violence group, Women Against Violence Against Women, reported they normally hear from five to six women a month who ask to be accompanied to the hospital for the gathering from their bodies evidence of rape. In the 24 hours after the men's Olympic gold-medal hockey game, four contacted them, all from hockey celebrations.
Commentators who say the Vancouver riots have "nothing to do with hockey" and "were not committed by hockey fans" are not informed enough to give public comment, or are lying. Young males buy into a violent subculture of masculinity fed by hockey, UFC and other activities that define men through violence and start drinking hours before they commit public or private acts of violence. It is the way they pretend they are not responsible for their actions.
Contrast this to what was reported from Whistler during the Olympics, where there was plenty of alcohol and revelry, but the Howe Sound Women's Centre reported a decrease in sexual assaults during the Games.
They had great support from area pubs that put their coaster and poster campaign about date rape and the rape drug front and centre in drinking establishments. A storefront area was also donated by a local business so the centre, which is located in Squamish, could be accessible to women.
What I observed as an Olympic journalist in Whistler was an equal amount of cheer given to Swiss, Swedish, Russian or any other country's athletes. Canadians loved our medallists, but we loved all athletes in Whistler.
Those who really understand sport know how difficult it is for any athlete from any nation to make it to the Olympic podium. There were no angry outbursts over the home team losing. Whistler was a place of international celebration.
The focus on men's hockey that so described the Vancouver venues during the Olympics and, of course, during these playoffs produced a menacing number of gangs of young males dominating the Vancouver streets.
Canadians saw a very selective slice of the city televised during the Olympics; what happened Wednesday night there was predictable to those who paid attention to the darker corners during the Games.
The complex social-psychological conditions that allow young males to rationalize violence through the iconography of a worshipped, yet violent game like hockey, partly through alcohol as a rationalizer, should be deeply disturbing to all of us.
Are there any plans anywhere in Canada to devote public space and screens so we can all gather and watch Canada's women's soccer team play at the FIFA World Cup starting next week? Why do we celebrate a violent men's game played only by northern countries, but pretend strong, skilled female athletes who play the people's game are invisible?
Canadians need to understand this gendered, violent crisis. I don't mean hand-wringing over concussions, which the NHL hopes we will forget by September, but an honest, well-researched understanding of how violence has become an endorsed dance of Canadian manliness -- both on and off the ice -- and how destructive and dangerous that dance truly is.
Laura Robinson is the author of Crossing the Line: Violence and Sexual Assault in Canada's National Sport. She is a former member of the national cycling team and part of FairPlay 2015, a group committed to gender equity at Toronto's 2015 Pan Am Games.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 18, 2011 A19
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