Flagged out

With the World Cup starting today, excitement has reached such a fever pitch that the New York Times Sunday Magazine couldn’t decide which soccer star to put on the cover. So they printed three versions using Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, Neymar of Brazil, or Lionel Messi of Argentina. (I got Ronaldo on my copy.)

I must admit that soccer is lost on me. It’s down there with cricket, a game that can go on for five days without declaring a winner. In soccer, sixty minutes can drone by without a goal. And don’t get me started on the corruption. How can anyone know if a World Cup referee’s call is honest or paid-for?

But what really gets up my nose is the number of vehicles in Toronto displaying flags of their favourite team, presumably representing their ancestral homeland. For a few days prior to the World Cup, I’m curious and intrigued. I can identify the obvious ones: France, Italy, Germany, England. I have to look up the less familiar like Colombia and Chile. 

Then I get outraged. I am proud that Toronto is such a multi-cultural city. I celebrate the fact that half of the people who live here were born in a foreign land. I’m delighted we’ve made a home for 250,000 Tamils who fled a civil war. I accept the fact that some of our 400,000 Chinese can live and work here without even learning the language because there are so many of them. I’m happy to see turbans on the subway, burkas on the streets, and saris in the stores.

But flying a flag demonstrates a divided loyalty, a dweller in Canada who has one foot elsewhere. When John Diefenbaker was prime minister, there were those who called him a German-Canadian. It was meant as a slur. For that and other reasons he spoke out against hyphenated Canadianism. “I am the first prime minister of this country of neither altogether English nor French origin. So I determined to bring about a Canadian citizenship that knew no hyphenated consideration,” he said in 1958. “In the House of Commons today in my party we have members of Italian, Dutch, German, Scandanavian, Chinese and Ukrainian origin – and they are all Canadians.”

We haven’t made much progress in the more than fifty years since. Foreign flags are the new hyphens.


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