If you accept the premise that international sporting competitions ought to be an expansive mirror of a functional society, then the 2022 World Juniors will be an event that reflects our hellacious sociopolitical climate.
This year’s event was always going to be dystopian after the original tournament was canceled on Dec. 29 due to a COVID-19 outbreak, and with the World Juniors synonymously grouped together with the holiday season, it feels less like a best-on-best tournament and more like a forced obligation.
Hockey Canada has been outed as a national disgrace after the sexual assault allegations involving the 2003 and 2018 teams were made public while the governing body, led by president and CEO Scott Smith, arrogantly blanched at the idea that it was responsible for a rotten, decaying culture during public questioning from the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage in July. Smith and his cronies refused to resign and the fact Hockey Canada gets to host this summer’s event without further inquiry or sanction is deplorable.
Hockey Canada only addressed the scope of the allegations surrounding the teams in question when major sponsors, including but not limited to Scotiabank and Tim Hortons, withdrew their long-standing financial support. Scrambling to placate its sponsors, pretending as if the culture of abuse wasn’t systemic but rather a series of isolated events under its watch, Hockey Canada submitted a tepid action plan on July 25. That included the escalation of a Maltreatment rule along with other half-measures, notably that Hockey Canada would establish an independent committee by September — well after the World Juniors are completed — as a measure of supposed transparency.
There’s no reason to believe Hockey Canada can be trusted to govern itself, especially if Smith pretends like it’s business as usual.
As a hockey community, both media and fans are now forced to reckon with the idea that Hockey Canada isn’t materially responsible for their positive memories as hockey fans, much as the disgraced board members would like to exercise a measure of propagandic control of what it means to be Canadian. They want you to believe your consumption of the World Juniors is your birthright as a Canadian, as much a part of the holiday season as Christmas presents and interminable small talk with your relatives.
Two questions remain as it relates to the 2022 World Juniors, the first of which hasn’t been presented in good faith: what about the actual kids in this year’s tournament that, to the best of our knowledge, haven’t participated in any type of misconduct? TSN’s Gord Miller, the unquestioned voice of the World Juniors, tried to address this notion in a multi-tweet thread on July 30, where he announced after some deliberation that he would commit to his role as primary broadcaster, arguing this year’s cohort deserved to have their stories cast to a national audience.
Miller’s thread begets more questions. It’s not as if these same courtesies were ever extended to the women’s IIHF U18 tournament, which was canceled outright at the same time as the World Juniors.
The idea that you need to watch the World Juniors to be attuned to the world of junior hockey is false. It is the near-consensus opinion of those who work in scouting, or cover junior hockey round-the-clock, that the World Juniors, while entertaining, are a skewed two-week sample and shouldn’t be used as a catch-all evaluation metric. If you really want to watch Connor Bedard or your favourite NHL team’s top prospects that badly, there are endless highlight packs on Twitter and YouTube, or better yet, subscribe to one of the many prominent junior hockey websites that could seriously use your help.
Hell, we teed up this tournament in December as Bedard and fellow 2023 draft-eligible Matvei Michkov putting the world on notice, perhaps an early inkling of this generation’s Sidney Crosby-Alexander Ovechkin rivalry. But even that has been rendered moot, as Russia has been booted out of the competition for its escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War.
The second question is one we all have to answer to some degree: how do we reassess our own relationships to the tournament? For many, this is a simple answer: don’t watch the tournament at all. There’s no real counterargument to that point, but if you’re compelled or contractually obligated to cover the tournament, we need to reevaluate our processes. If Canadians have an insatiable desire for hockey, then we’ll need to reflect the horrors the governing body has inflicted in our coverage, too.
If Hockey Canada and TSN want you to believe "The Future of Hockey Lives Here" throughout the tournament, it’s time to start reimagining what a future without catering to Hockey Canada’s whims looks like.
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