The share of immigrants in Canada has reached its highest level in almost a century – nearly 22 percent of the population, with the country welcoming 1.2 million new immigrants between 2011 and 2016 alone, according to the latest census numbers. And, new arrivals are always faced with challenges no matter how prepared we think we are. We have to learn the ways of a new society, find our place in it and explore opportunities to grow and become a part of it, and perhaps even develop an adjusted identity in this new milieu. And this integration starts in neighbourhoods where people come face to face with each other, relationships are established and the human spirit is able to connect us beyond our differences.
Sports can break down barriers and foster positive connections. While integration may not be the primary reason newcomers decide to get involved in sports – whether to cheer, volunteer or play on the field – those who participate are more likely to find common ground to connect with others. The recent NBA playoffs is a stellar example – people from all cultures and communities from across the country rallied around the Toronto Raptors as they ultimately made history winning the NBA championship. The infectious fandom spread to newcomers as well. Says Indian-born Mohit A, “I’ve been in Canada only 14 months now, but I was feeling the vibe. I was cheering for the Raptors.” Often, people gravitate towards their own leagues and favourite sports from back home. Keeping those differences aside, coming together in the spirit of the game helps build more inclusive communities and provide a greater sense of belonging to transform our lives and make inroads into the communities we live in.
Ask Torontonian Rafal G who moved to Canada with his parents as a teenager over two decades ago: “I do play sport but don’t usually follow any or basketball but I am happy the Raptors won. Yay Canada!” he cheers. “I feel like we all have something more in common, something to cheer about together – whether with co-workers or socially.” Raptors fan and immigrant success story Mohamad Fakih revels in the team’s success. Read interview.
A sea of emotion
These connections go much beyond the field. Nancy M has a big sign in support of the Raptors outside her office door. “Soccer is the game I follow. Being here, I feel the passion and belonging to my adopted home. Of late, I have been following basketball and the Raptors.” She moved to Canada from Italy over a decade ago, “Things like this bring the whole country together. Everybody is behind one single thought for Canada and who we are. I am proud of them,” she says. For Steffen H who has lived in Canada for 13 years it was too exciting to not watch the Raptors. “I started following basketball with all the hype going on. Watching the game, I am surprised about how emotional I got. I even got a (cable) subscription to watch them. I watched documentaries about basketball, learned more about the players, and got really involved in the sport.” He even braved the crowds and took his son to watch the Raptors NBA Championship parade in downtown Toronto.
The changing landscape
The changing demographics in Canada is impacting the sports being viewed and played. While hockey is generally considered the most popular sport in Canada, studies have found that it is not the most common sport among the youth anymore. Sports like swimming and soccer are becoming more popular. In addition, newcomers are bringing in their own sporting traditions whether it is cricket, badminton or table tennis. Studies have identified reasons for changes as newcomers being completely unfamiliar with certain sports, the perception of some sports as too aggressive (especially hockey), lack of opportunities to play informal pickup games or even just the lack of information.
While sport won’t alone be enough to promote integration, it surely is a start. For now, let’s give kudos to Canadian James Naismith credited with founding the modern basketball game and soak
in some “We The North” spirit.