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The CBC, and the difference between soccer and hockey

The World Cup trophy arrived in Toronto yesterday. CBC made a huge deal out of it because it has the broadcast rights to the tournament and it wants all World Cup-related events to have a huge impact.

On CBC NN, Suhana Meharchand again provided a notable item for this column (thank you kindly, Ms. Meharchand) when she interviewed singer K'naan, the Somali-Canadian guy who wrote the wonderful official Coca-Cola anthem for the 2010 World Cup, Wavin' Flag. Then she hugged him. Oh yes, she did. A great, big oooh-I-love-you hug. It was one of those moments. So much so that it was repeated an hour later on CBC NN.

If you happened to see TV news footage of the arrival of the trophy in Canada, you may have noticed that one of the dignitaries present was Jason Kenney, Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism. This was very interesting and, I put it to you, another twist in the Canadian Culture War.

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If fact, I don't think Kenney knew exactly what he was doing. I don't think he's clear about what soccer symbolizes.

Now, it might seem obvious that Kenney was merely trawling for the ethnic vote. Soccer is the world's game and in Toronto and other cities, in many, many communities, nothing matters more than the World Cup. In parts of the world, wars have ceased for the tournament. Here, it is one, big, happy party, the rules of the game being understood by absolutely everybody, no matter what language they speak or where they come from.

It's also interesting, mind you, that Kenney and his government are responsible for fetishizing hockey as an emanation of Canadian culture and somehow representative of conservative values. Famously, it was Kenney's department that ensured that the new version of the citizenship and immigration study guide included the phrase "Canadian children have collected hockey cards for generations."

Thus, I'm not sure Kenney understands that soccer is a social signifier. While hockey represents certain core Canadian values, it is essentially insular. Don Cherry and his rants, and all that. Skepticism and even derision for soccer signals Canadian traditionalism, if not patriotism itself. Scorn for soccer - and it exists here, though not as emphatically as it does in the United States - is a kind of signifier of small-c conservative attitudes. That scorn amounts to a hard-line belief that soccer, unlike hockey, is not a manly game that requires strength, skill and masculine fortitude. Soccer is seen as metrosexual - David Beckham epitomizes that - and urbane, representative of small-l liberal values.

In part, this is one reason why CBC is going all-out to cover the World Cup on its multiple platforms. The coverage will not only signal the CBC's importance to multicultural Canada, it will also act as a magnet for those young, urban sophisticates who see interest in soccer as a talismanic indicator of being a non-traditional Canadian. Hockey is, you might say, hokey-Canadian, something to attach to fetishizing Tim Hortons, but a knowledge of soccer declares an interest in the wider world.

What happens over the next two months is going to be fascinating. CBC will continue its blanket coverage of the National Hockey League playoffs, take a brief pause and then offer blanket coverage of the World Cup from South Africa. It's not that Canada is even represented there. It's an act of faith in the popularity of soccer here and an act that might define the CBC as progressive, worldly and cool.

I wonder if those small-c conservatives who despise the CBC but watch its NHL coverage voraciously will stick with the World Cup coverage - or condemn the CBC for spending money on such an un-Canadian game. I wonder if Jason Kenney understands what he was doing when he greeted the World Cup trophy? That was no puck. Isn't the World Cup coverage the kind of thing that usually causes the Conservative Party to beat up on the CBC?

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Airing tonight

The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant (HBO Canada, 8:30 p.m.) is an excellent, Oscar-nominated documentary about the closing of the General Motors Moraine Assembly Plant near Dayton, Ohio. The plant had existed since 1981, employed 2,500 people and produced about 250,000 trucks and SUVs a year. The local community thrived on the plant's existence and the good wages. We see a very middle-class community, a place where the American flag flies everywhere. Then GM announced it would close the plant. The doc deftly captures the terrible anxiety of the workers and their deep disappointment. One worker says, "After all we gave them, after all we done, and all the money we made them, they dropping a bomb on us like this."

CSI (CBS, CTV, 9 p.m.) goes showbiz to find its murder mystery: "A legendary comic from the good old days of Las Vegas is set to reunite with his partner onstage for one night only, until one half of the famous duo is found dead." Tim Conway guest-stars as that legendary comic, one Knuckles Pratt, and Jennifer Tilly guest-stars as his wife.

The Mentalist (CBS, CTV, 10 p.m.) airing tonight is called Red All Over. A media mogul is murdered, and the team suspect a cult leader (played by Malcolm McDowell) is guilty. Still no sign of the return of the Red John serial-killer storyline. Pity.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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