People wearing warm winter jackets sit in the foreground watching the opening ceremonies of the 1988 Olympics in McMahon Stadium. On the white field of the stadium are people in red jackets standing in a large square formation.
The Olympic torch is carried into McMahon Stadium during the opening ceremonies of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, Canada (photo by Brian Woychuk licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Ignorance is an activity, it isn’t simply not knowing but a form of knowing supported by the socio-political system. –Lisa Slater

It is well documented that youth sport teaches young people life lessons – about themselves, the importance of teamwork, etc. In this short reflexive essay (drawn from a larger book project), I consider another kind of education at work in youths’ encounters with sport in settler states – countries founded upon the theft of land from Indigenous peoples: it teaches young settlers, in particular, about their place in the world, their “right” to live on stolen lands.

Here, I take up selected fragments of my childhood and youth, interrogating how my encounters with sport (as both a participant and a consumer) shaped my understandings of myself and my belonging on lands claimed by Canada. I consider, in the words of social scientist Lisa Slater, some of the “dimly lit memories” that provide clues to my developing sense of self.

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US President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a cricket stadium, in Ahmedabad, India, in front of a large crowd of people.
U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrive for a “Namaste Trump,” event in Ahmedabad, India. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

After emphasizing that “America loves India” during the “Namaste Trump” event, President Donald Trump opened his address with several references to India’s most popular sport, cricket. A crowd of more than 100,000 responded with cheers.

“Five months ago, the United States welcomed your great prime minister at a giant football stadium in Texas,” Trump noted on Feb. 24. “And today India welcomes us at the world’s largest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad.” Next, Trump mentioned Indian cricket stars Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli, although he mispronounced the names and was called out by social media users, including the sport’s governing body, the International Cricket Council.

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Photo of Judith Kasiama, a woman of colour, with long black hair, wearing sunglasses and an orange jacket, against the backdrop of snow-filled mountains.
Figure 1: Judith Kasiama, an Adventure Ambassador with Mountain Equipment Co-op, has criticized the company for perpetuating the myth that only white people frequent the “outdoors.” (Photo from MEC)

In November 2018, Canadian outdoor recreation giant Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) sent ripples through the community of “outdoorsy” folks in Canada with a statement framed around the following provocative question: “Do White People Dominate the Outdoors?” The statement was a response to an Instagram callout from Judith Kasiama (see Figure 1), in which Kasiama pointed out “a narrative that [Black and Indigenous peoples and people of colour] don’t enjoy the outdoor[s] compare[d] to their white friends.” In its statement, MEC took responsibility for its role “in underrepresenting people of colour in the outdoors,” and promised “that moving forward, [MEC] will make sure [they’re] inspiring and representing the diverse community that already exists in the outdoors” (see Figures 2 & 3 below).

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Everton’s Ademola Lookman battles for the ball with Joash Onyango of Gor Mahia during the SportPesa Trophy match in November 2018
Everton’s Ademola Lookman battles for the ball with Joash Onyango of Gor Mahia during the SportPesa Trophy match in November 2018 (Getty Images)

One of the most interesting sociological phenomena to occur at the 2018 FIFA men’s World Cup was the diverse, multi-ethnic and migrant composition of many playing squads. Teams representing former colonizers (e.g., France and Belgium), settler-colonial nations (e.g., Australia), and former colonized territories (e.g., Algeria), all illustrated how histories and legacies of empire continue to shape patterns of citizenship, belonging, and representation in the (post)colonial sporting landscape.

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Savage Race participants struggle through an obstacle named “Sawtooth.” (Photo by Mac Stone / Daily Burn)

The racist and historically problematic myth of the “savage” lives on within contemporary North American discourse. A prominent example of this is found in the rising popularity of adventure races, such as Savage Race, Tough Mudder and Warrior Dash, in which sporting companies reproduce traditional notions of masculinity and comradery through environmental and obstacle conquest. In at least one of the events, a historically racist term like “savage” is frequently employed to sell customers an opportunity to push themselves to their physical, mental, and emotional limits by running a purposefully rural, physically-taxing course filled with predesigned obstacles and stressful natural environments (running through mud and near dangerous elements like fire and barbed wire, for example). It is symptomatic of the enduring ubiquity of racial ideals within American society that, through a company like Savage Race, customers pay for a chance to be physically active, have fun and “get savage.”

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