Saturday, December 03, 2005

Team Canada vs Team Quebec?

There's a federal election brewing in Canada, and the Bloc Quebecois (the Quebec separatists) kicked off their campaign by proposing that Quebec compete with their own team in international ice hockey tournaments (amongst other sports). The comparison was drawn between Great Britain and England, Scotland and Wales competing with their own teams at football and rugby. That's fine, but is broken down pretty quickly when you consider the different legal status of those countries in the United Kingdom, compared to Quebec being a province in a confederation.

What surprises me most, though, is that this suggestion wasn't made earlier. Sport is one of the key ways in which nationalism is perpetuated, and national feeling is expressed. Think of the Guardian readers who sneer at other expressions of patriotism, yet were no doubt delighted when England reclaimed the Ashes this summer. Would the nationalist movements in Scotland and Wales really be as partisan if there were not separate rugby and football teams to cheer for?

I doubt it, somehow. Let's face it, Scotland and Wales, under the Barnett formula, get a pretty good deal - considerably better funded per head than England. Scotland can't even have that many political complaints given the infestation of the Cabinet with Scotsmen. Yet the stereotypes of the arrogant, haughty English are perpetuated through the medium of sport - take the opprobrium heaped on Clive Woodward. Would he have been so chastised had he done the same things with Wales?

I don't, of course, know how the question of a Quebec 'national' team has been taken in Quebec. In Canada at large, the idea has been mocked pretty quickly, Team Canada arguing that the team is strong precisely because it represents the whole nation; other provinces arguing that Quebec shouldn't be given special treatment. Yet if Quebec independence is likely to succeed, getting a national team would be a huge boon in that movement. It would give something else behind which the Quebecois could rally; create emotional ties to Quebec in a way that currently isn't present. Sport is crucial in our self-identity - the Bloc Quebecois are finally tapping into that.