By Kimball Cariou
It's been an interesting few days since Hockey Fans For Peace hit the media radar. As cofounder, I've watched the small membership of our Facebook group suddenly triple, and I've done some major radio sports-talk-show interviews.
This whole thing was largely sparked by Cherry's ugly rant at the inauguration of the new city council in Toronto. Cherry supporters argue that he simply "supports the troops".
That claim was demolished over Christmas in Kandahar, where Cherry fired off artillery, autographed bombs, and bragged about "chasing the Taliban".
But many hockey fans across Canada have been disturbed by a larger trend—the strategy of the Harper Conservatives to turn athletes and the Canadian Armed Forces into props for their war-making agenda.
It's difficult these days to find a major sports event which does not incorporate reference to "our brave troops in Kandahar". For me, the most gut-wrenching was at the Oct. 31 Saskatchewan Roughriders vs. B.C. Lions game at Empire Stadium in Vancouver.
The psychological aim of this strategy is to sow divisions among Canadians, particularly among the solid majority who want an early return home for the troops in Afghanistan. "Real" hockey fans and "real" Canadians, we are urged to believe, all "support the troops" and therefore back the alleged aims of the military mission.
Anyone who questions this reasoning is immediately under suspicion. Such individuals are somehow not considered true fans or "patriotic" Canadians.
Supposedly we "spit in the faces" of the troops. We are even accused of being "Taliban recruiters". (A Toronto Sun writer hurled this absurd slander at me on Jan. 7 during a call-in on 640 AM's "Opie Show"!).
For fans like me on the Left, such outrageous lies are easy to dismiss. My credentials as a lifetime "true fan" of sports at every level are impeccable. I bleed Roughrider green when I cut my finger, or else the "bleu, blanc et rouge" of les Canadiens. I have a letter signed by New York Mets manager Casey Stengel, sent to me when I was just eight years old. I stop to watch Mabel League women's slo-pitch games at my neighbourhood ball diamond, and volleyball at Kits Beach. I go to every game of my son's Special Olympics soccer team.
But for many Canadians who consider themselves sports fans, this campaign of intimidation can be stifling. That's why launching Hockey Fans For Peace was so important. We are showing the world that people can love hockey and speak out against the war.
We won't let right-wing bullies dictate our beliefs and actions. We will keep cheering for our favourite teams, and we will continue to demand the immediate removal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan.
So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Don and Stephen!
Kimball Cariou is cofounder of the "Hockey Fans for Peace" Facebook group.