Above photo courtesy of AliaAtkinson.com.
By Lekan Afolabi
PRIDE Sports Columnist
Let us abandon this notion that our sporting interests, as a community, should fall within the expected norms.
By the time most of us in the African Canadian and Caribbean communities log on to our computers and check Pridenews.ca for this week’s publication or pick up our weekly Pride News Magazine from our neighborhood barbershops, hair salons or local cultural eateries, the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games will only be two days away from commencing.
Involvement and inclusion is a two way street; there are many areas in which our voices are not heard and our opinions not petitioned on many matters that impact us but there are other times when the onus lies on us to get involved, broaden our scope of interest and, quite simply, participate.
The Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games affords us one of those times when we can uncloak ourselves of our comfortable preferences. This is a unique opportunity to expand interests and add to our knowledge database.
Take myself for example – my comfortable preferences for the Games are basketball, soccer, athletics (mainly track and field), and baseball. In the spirit of involvement and inclusion, I plan to open myself to the unknown, in sports that is. After all, how often do we get to have this level of competition from such an array of sports right at our doorsteps?
With that said, I implore you all to take in a sport or two – something different. Considering that the natural urge is to watch it on television or read about it in the papers, how about being there in person?
Although the Games organizers have made notable efforts to include different communities in the planning and execution of this momentous event; this includes programs and job opportunities that were open to varying minority groups in the city – my appeal is solely about our interests and how it can directly or indirectly impact our involvement and inclusion opportunities, as a community.
Imagine Alia Atkinson (whom I wrote a piece about a few weeks ago) being the first black woman to win gold in swimming at an international level; when it is often said that black people are not strong swimmers or even worse, that black people cannot swim. Now imagine when she decided to focus on swimming rather than track and field or basketball… or whatever sports are stereotypically “black sports”. For all we know, her interest in swimming might have started through her willingness to give the sport a chance. And that might have all begun by her watching it.
How about we give sports like beach volleyball a try? How about badminton, field hockey, trampoline, water polo, rugby sevens, and weightlifting?
This is about our narrative and how it should never be made up of the same usual stories. Rather, it should be a confluence of many different interests.
This is where I evoke the names of some black athletes who broke the “color barrier”:
Willie O’Ree (first black player in the National Hockey League), Jackie Robinson (first black baseball player in the major leagues in the modern era), Althea Gibson (the first black woman and athlete to break the color barrier of international tennis), Charlie Sifford (the first black Professional Golf Association Tour member), Bob Ryland (the first black man to play men’s tennis as a professional), Debi Thomas (the first black woman to win the women’s title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships).
These athletes ventured into unchartered territories and it took a lot of courage on their parts to attempt to do something different.
Doing something different begins with being interested in something different; anything different from the popular perception.
Here are five reasons why, as a community, we should try something different when the Pan Am Games begin:
- The tickets are relatively inexpensive: According to the Toronto 2015 Games ticket portal, “tickets start as low as $20 … 75% (of tickets) priced $45 and under … half price tickets are available for those under 16 years of age, or 65 and over.”
- Every ticket purchased includes FREE public transit to and from the event.
- Be part of the festive atmosphere: There will be many concerts and related fun events during the Games. There will be 130 artists from across the Americas performing nightly, and this will include Panamania – the 35-day arts and culture festival which enhances the Games experience. It will feature more than 250 unique performances and exhibitions, both free and ticketed, from July 10 to August 15
- Let loose and relax: Amidst what is expected to offer some inconveniences to some people in the city, due in large part to the transportation gridlocks that is expected, the Games will offer most Torontonians a chance to get their minds off their usual “9 to 5” lives. Even if it is one event a week or one event for the entire duration of the Games, making plans to be out there should provide a slight change of pace from the usual everyday grind.
- Open your mind to something different or new: My wife and I often tell our two year old son to try any food he refuses to eat because of what it looks like – for example, Our usual mantra is “just taste it and see.” This is the same thinking I want us in the Black, African Canadian and Caribbean communities to have when it comes to the Games. Having the Pan Am Games in Toronto gives most of us who like sports a unique opportunity to try something different. A particular sport we might always have been curious about from afar is now at our doorsteps.
Let us become part of the wider narrative – foraying into avenues and sports that, society at large and we ourselves, seldom see much of ourselves in; be it on the field of play or watching in the stands.
Let us put to bed the notion that interests in certain sports are somehow best enjoyed by some select races, and not others. Let us become well versed in other arenas that do not directly include our cultural norms.
It is when we begin to do this, as a community, that involvement and inclusion truly take hold.
Let’s go out and enjoy the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Parapan Games.