Editorial: Cheering for the Home Team in Poker and Olympics

Editorial: Cheering for the Home Team in Poker and Olympics 101

Go Canada Go!

Whether you were tuned into the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia or refreshing for updates on PokerNews about Aussie Millions in Melbourne, Australia, there was something to cheer for as a Canadian this past weekend. Wasn’t there?

Charles Hamelin recently crossed the finish line first in the men’s 1,500 metre short-track speedskating final adding another gold medal to the Canadian tally, putting our country second in the standings at the time of writing. Meanwhile, Canadians Ami Barer and Sorel Mizzi finished first and second in the Aussie Millions Main Event a day after Mike McDonald finished second in the $100K Challenge.

The Olympics keeps a running tally throughout the games of which nation is currently ahead of the pack in bringing home medals. The poker world doesn’t really keep track in any official way. This past weekend generates comments like “the Canadians did well at Aussie Millions,” but there is never a leaderboard dividing the players by nation and keeping track of which country is taking home the most prize money, most trophies, most final table finishes, etc. Some reports from the World Series of Poker last summer in Las Vegas quantified the Canadian success in terms of one nation against others because Canadians brought home an extraordinary number of bracelets.

Should we inject some Olympic-like nationalism in poker? I’m a little wary of the idea.

Canadians have a bit of a reputation of being soft on nation pride, but maybe that’s relative to the flag-wavers to the south. Maybe you are, but I’m not much of a nationalist. You know, global citizen and all that.

I realize what a contradiction that is considering my position at PokerNews Canada, a site made distinct from the global PokerNews site and the sub-domains of other countries solely by the name of this nation. We favour poker news from within our borders and try to find a piece of Canadianism, or at least relevance to Canadians, in global news stories. So questioning the value of nationalism is arguably hypocritical of me.

The Olympics are supposed to be a gathering of nations to come together and celebrate sport. The games are toted as promoting unity. They’re a force for global harmony. Then why are we dividing the athletes by country of residence, placing them in matching uniforms, and totalling their results with other athletes from the same country who they may have never even met? Why can’t we celebrate individual athleticism, regardless of which country they call home? Don’t the Olympics solidify the political borders that technology has come so far in softening in the past couple decades?

And what about us, the viewers? We sit on our couch and cheer on the speedskater in red and white that we have never met competing in a sport we have absolutely no previous interest in ... except for four years ago when suddenly speedskating was something we took great interest in again. Why cheer for that guy? And why feel disappointment when a Canadian falls just short of earning a spot on the podium? In short, why the sudden resurgence of nation pride?

I fully respect and admire the athletic ability and determination of someone like Charles Hamelin to compete at this level. It’s inspiring. But I don’t want to give Canada the credit for Charles Hamelin. I want to give Charles Hamelin the credit for Charles Hamelin.

Benedict Anderson (no relation to me and I have no bias toward his theories because of our shared last name) came up with the concept of “imagined communities” in the 1980s as a way of thinking about a nation. An imagined community is a community that is not based on physical, daily interaction between its members, but a communal link and affinity is thought to exist between the members who will never meet each other, and may not even like each other if they did, because of something in common, like the political boundaries of a nation (or a surname).

We subscribe to imagined communities because we want to belong to something. We become personally invested in Canadian Olympic athletes because we want to share in their victories, and feel the emotion of their highs and lows.

We don’t put quite as much emphasis on nationalism in poker. We give credit to Mike McDonald for the fantastic run he’s had so far in 2014, scooping up $2.6 million in tournament cashes in the first six weeks of the year, not to Canadians in general. Daniel Negreanu deserves all the credit for his fantastic career and for being arguably the biggest name in the industry. Yet I have been guilty of portraying these as successes for Canada. I paint poker news with a tint of nationalism.

Where’s the balance? The Olympics could probably do with a little less emphasis on the nations and a lot more attention on the individuals. Dare I say, they could even look to the poker industry for a model of how the nations are recognized but the individuals are celebrated? What do you think? Or is it all “Go Canada Go” for you?

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