This weekend I'm doing something that most people that know me would consider unusual, if not almost unheard of; I'm deliberately missing the Toronto FC match.
I am a considered by most to be a fairly die-hard TFC fan; I write, tweet and podcast about the team. It takes up large portions of my free time and the people that I spend time with at games are among my best friends. Which makes my decision to deliberately miss a match even more difficult; and yet I will not be in my usual spot in the south stands this weekend cheering on my team.
And it's not for any of the usual reasons that people have for missing something like this - it's not due to work, family, illness or any other obligation. No I will miss this match (and have missed similar matches each year) for one simple reason: it is Canadian Armed Forces Day.
If you know me, have read what I write or listened to me podcast, you know how much the heavy focus on marketing ploys, sponsored everything, but most especially special event (or promotional) nights at TFC matches have grated on me (and others). The constant circus has become increasingly invasive and overwhelming in the past couple of years culminating in sponsor overload this year - every tweet must be sponsored! There is no end to the circus, no lessening of the barrage. What is wrong with just enjoying the game without the circus? Why can't we just be? And yet, still I go to games, tweet, write stories and podcast; so my sensibilities must not be too offended, right?
Even in the face of wave after wave of pandering to various groups I still show up every week. Because it is pandering - make no mistake - the underlying motivation isn't to build bridges to the community or to honour a specific culture. If it were they'd do more than just have a few of the Bud Girls dressed up on the King Patio along with a few other representatives from that week's ‘honoured' nationality out to entertain the patrons of the sponsorfest that is the patio. While the rest of the fans at BMO Field see nothing that relates to this celebration of another culture.
Why is that? Because there is no half-time celebration or show with the exception of cringe inducing accent contests that have nothing to do with that night's honoured community. No, there's nothing for the fans that don't want to knock back $5 bottles of the preferred sponsor's beer. In fact on Italian Heritage Night how did they celebrate this part of our community? They gave out boxes of Primo Pasta after the game... It's mere lip service and were it not for the constant tweeting and emails from Toronto FC, you'd never be able to tell it from any other game. And yet I still go to the games and support my team.
So what makes Canadian Armed Forces Day different from the others? Other than the fact that it's just another level of pandering - in fact if you want to see how seriously MLSE & TFC take this, watch Rachel's latest video - where is Doctor's Night? Paramedics Night? Teachers Night? And so forth. Why is it alright; no ,why is it expected that this group is to celebrated and thanked? Why these men and women and not any others? Why not honour or celebrate those in need?
I acknowledge that MLSE and TFC do charitable works around young people and sport, important and helpful work - however I don't get multiple emails about donating my tickets to needy kids so that they can come see a game. But for Canadian Armed Forces Day? I received constant email reminders to donate my tickets so that a member of the military can attend the game.
So why is it different? Why do I stay away from the team I love on this day? Because this promotional event isn't just marketing - or I should say it's not just half-assed attempts to honour some group - oh no, for this day they pull out all the bells and whistles. And why do they go that extra mile, that extra step? Because at its heart this is the glorification of the military dressed up as fun event. Making the military seem like something shiny and fun (again, watch the video), should have no place at sporting events. Because no other group gets this kind of treatment and showcase at public events.
This year they're taking the exploitation and glorification to new heights: Wristbands (but only for the first 7000 - no one else gets to celebrate), a special pre-game ceremony AND a half-time show! Hey, guess those other special event nights weren't that special were they? And the capper is the one that I've been waiting for since the Canadian Armed Forces Days were started - special kits with camouflage numbers on them. It is not enough to have fly-overs (presumably while Kenny Loggins blares throughout the stadium), fireworks, special shows - oh no - now we're going to ask our players to wear kits that mimic military garb. This should not be. They are not soldiers, we are not in battle, this is a game - a GAME!
In today's world where people wear camouflage as fashion, where military lingo permeates every aspect of our conversations - most notably in the media and business worlds - and where a small town police force thought it was acceptable to get a tank to deal with some protesters, it is more important than ever that the line between the military and everyday life be made clear and not wiped away.
Marching bands, fireworks and faint applause do nothing to change that this is just blurring the lines between the two worlds. Handing out wristbands shouldn't make war and death and strife acceptable and entertaining. Athletes sporting camouflage should not turn into people clamouring to buy the latest special kit from the merchandise stalls. Because soccer is a game, it's not war. And war isn't a game and nor should it be celebrated at one.