Canada

Members of Canadian Parliament wearing jerseys to honour the Humboldt Broncos. Photo from Toronto Star.

On April 6, 2018, the Humboldt Broncos of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League (SJHL) were travelling to a playoff game against the Nipawin Hawks on a rural highway when their bus collided with a semi-trailer truck. Sixteen people on board were killed and 13 were injured in the crash. Ten of the fatalities were Humboldt Broncos players.

What first drew me to this story was the overwhelming wave of emotion that it captured across Canada. The crash led to a nationwide outpouring of grief and mourning for the victims and their families. This included a social media campaign with the hashtag #putyoursticksout, where thousands of Canadians placed sticks outside the front doors of their homes and businesses to pay tribute to the memory of the fallen hockey players. What followed was an official “Jersey Day”, where Canadians donned a hockey jersey to show their support with the hashtag #jerseysforhumboldt. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued an official statement on the tragedy, saying:

Our national hockey family is a close one, with roots in almost every town — small and big — across Canada. Humboldt is no exception, and today the country and the entire hockey community stands with you…. We are here for you. As neighbours, as friends, and as Canadians, we grieve alongside you.

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2017-2018 Humboldt Broncos. Photo from The Globe and Mail.

On April 6, 2018, a bus associated with the Humboldt Broncos Junior Hockey Team crashed in rural Saskatchewan, Canada, killing 16 people. The national and international response was astounding, including a $15 million GoFundMe campaign (the largest ever in Canada) along with another $1.5 million donated directly to the team over just 12 days. Between consistent features in sport media outlets, shout outs from the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, a Tim Horton’s donut controversy, and a large participatory movement of “putting your sticks out for the boys,” the tragedy was seemingly omnipresent.

Among the social media buzz, Québec-based writer and activist Nora Loreto commented in a twitter thread that the “maleness, the youthfulness and the whiteness of the victims are, of course, playing a significant role” in this uptake. Public response to her comments was swift and included over 5000 replies to her tweet, death threats, an attempted boycott, and multiple editorials. While not all of the reactions were negative, the public response to Loreto’s critique – which was almost as prompt and passionate as the philanthropy toward the players and families – offers us the opportunity to think through the ways in which power and politics play out in the Twittersphere and digital spaces more broadly. The attack on Loreto provided interesting points through which we can critically unpack ideas of nationalism, rurality, and the hockey community in the context of Canadian sport.

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“I feel good that I am playing part in changing our culture and showing girls anyone can cycle. I don’t care what people say. I am the one benefitting from this bicycle. The most important thing that anyone can do is stand up for him or herself.” – Ayan from World Bicycle Relief (Eldoret, Kenya, Dec. 2017)

“You cannot lie when you’re on your bicycle, it will always tell you the truth” – Fagodien Campher, BEC Owner – Bicycle Empowerment Network (Lavender Hill, South Africa, date unknown)

“We believe in the bicycle as a means of increasing access to vital health services, economic opportunity, educational empowerment and independence.”  – Bikes Without Borders (Toronto, ON)

“It is not a hyperbole to say that bicycles can change the world.” Mike Brcic, Board Chair of BWB

 

Photo: Bikes Without Borders

The narratives above provide a small glimpse into the values and experiences people place onto bicycles across the globe. These narratives encapsulate the bicycle as a tool for development that has the ability to address a range of social issues, including poverty, lack of transportation, gender inequality, health and education. In addition, various social actors – such as the United Nations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and corporations – praise the bicycle as a tool for reducing poverty, and supporting youth development and education within marginalized communities around the globe. As a Master’s student and a member of Dr. Lyndsay Hayhurst’s research team at York University in Toronto, Canada, these kinds of narratives enable research teams like ours to highlight and identify what is called the Bicycle for Development (BFD) movement.

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Photo from Sports Politicus USA.

There is a paradox to the idea of sport in prisons—namely, that institutions whose primary purpose is the restriction of human movement are home to vibrant physical cultures and diverse forms of physical activity. Despite the numerous sociological questions that arise from this peculiar phenomenon, to say nothing of widely-circulated pop culture tropes of tattooed and muscular (and usually male) convicts, there is relatively little research on the topic within the sociology of sport. Here, I reflect on a project I conducted on prison sport and physical culture in Canadian federal prisons, and discuss the significance of prison sport to the broader sociological study of sport.

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