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  • Writer's pictureDavid Thibodeau

Sport and Citizenship

This week is Citizenship Week in Canada (cover photo was taken at a Citizenship Ceremony I attended). This week happens every year to celebrate the rights and responsibilities shared by all Canadian citizens. In my day job, outside of the world of sports, I work for the federal department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, specifically I work in the citizenship program operations sector.

This week I wanted to explore the connection between citizenship policy for promotion and awareness of citizenship and sport. How can sport be used to promote citizenship in countries around the world?

Sport as a Unifier

I remember the torch relay before the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, how our citizens rallied behind our athletes and the city of Vancouver as our national ambassador to the international community. Hosting the Olympic Games brought Canada closer together. Out of these Games we also now have our red mittens, which I think are a symbol of our national pride and our love of Canada, something that I didn’t really see or feel before the 2010 Olympics.

Sports connect people from all backgrounds in our diverse country, creating a more entrenched sense of community and belonging. Sport can be used to create more social cohesion between its citizens and create a more unified citizenry. Using sport can help teach citizens their shared responsibilities towards the country by showing everyone that they are part of something bigger than just themselves.

Sport and Effective Citizenship

Sport can also be used to teach the responsibilities of being an effective citizen. Personally, I would define an effective citizen is someone who gives back or contributes in a meaningful way to their community, this could be someone who volunteers for causes they care about, teaching, coaching or being involved in their community, if they are able to. Not everyone will be able to volunteer or donate to charity because of their individual circumstances. I think effective citizens also do things like vote in elections, something that everyone can do. When you are part of a community you have responsibilities that you must do to ensure that the community is healthy and vibrant.

Sport cultivates effective citizenship by instilling the values of respect, fairness, responsibility, and friendship into young people around the world. By teaching these values we can teach young athletes the importance of caring for your community and giving back to it in any way that you can.

Sport as a National Symbol

Canada has two official national sports. The most well known one is hockey, the lesser known one is lacrosse. This is outlined in the National Sports of Canada Act. Long has hockey reigned as a Canadian symbol, domestically and internationally. This is an example of how sport can be a national symbol. But why limit our national symbol to one sport?

In 2019 we saw huge success in Canadian sports and sport movements:

  • #WeTheNorth, a hashtag to support the Toronto Raptors (Canada’s only National Basketball Association team). They were Canada’s team, not Toronto’s. After the Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA championship, estimates of 2 million people attended the parade in Toronto to celebrate the win, essentially bringing the city to a standstill.

  • Bianca Andreescu became the first Canadian to win the U.S. Open in 2019. Enticing a similar reaction across the country of national pride.

Further back in Rio 2016, Penny Oleksiak, a swimmer, became the first Canadian athlete to win four medals at a single summer Games, effectively becoming a household name in Canada (which is incredibly rare for swimmers if you are not Michael Phelps).

Canada is so much more than just hockey or lacrosse, no country is just one sport. Sport helps us celebrate our achievements as a nation.

Citizenship through Sport Framework

Promoting citizenship through sport, uses sport to connect, cultivate and celebrate. Check out the guide for Citizenship through Sport Framework.

Connect: bring people together. Crossing ethnic, language, religious lines to create a national community.

Cultivate: the values of respect, fairness, responsibility, and friendship to teach youth about the importance about giving back to the community.

Celebrate: the successes of all athletes at all levels, community and international levels.


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