Sports Without War Issues Fake Press Release, Imploring Toronto Maple Leafs to Reconsider their Approach to “Forces Appreciation Night”

Sports Without War Issues Fake Press Release, Imploring Toronto Maple Leafs to Reconsider their Approach to “Forces Appreciation Night”

On Friday, Jan 31, 2014, the independent social organization Sports Without War published a satirical press release designed to expose the hypocrisy inherent in the annual Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) “Forces Appreciation Night.”

In the fake press release, MLSE announced that they would honour not only Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan but also the thousands of Afghan civilians killed in the conflict.  The press release further acknowledged that while Canadian soldiers get much fanfare for fighting in Afghanistan, they are given very little material support upon their return, as they struggle with physical and emotional trauma from the violent occupation.  Finally, the press release suggested that both Canadians and Afghans deserve to enjoy sports and entertainment in peace.

The fake press release was designed to say the things that would more closely reflect the values of most Canadians, including many Afghan-Canadians.  Unfortunately, up until now, Forces Appreciation Night has glorified the military mission in Afghanistan, presenting dazzling displays of soldiers rappelling from the rafters with hard rock music pumping, as if the war was uncomplicated and Canada was obviously on the “right” side.  But around 80% of Canadians are opposed to this war, with good reason, and many soldiers themselves come home traumatized and disillusioned from a brutal and disturbing experience.

The people who have participated in the Sports Without War initiative are pretty average Canadians.  We are hockey fans; we cheer for the Leafs, the Oilers, sometimes even the Canucks.  And we want to know why our hockey teams are promoting a war that most Canadians, even many in the military, do not want.

And this showed in the public’s response to the press release – not only did it generate positive responses from fans of Leafs Nation (and many other hockey fans who stated that they now supported the Leafs as a result of this new initiative!), but American and British veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq also expressed their support upon seeing the fake press release. This shows that there is an audience – the majority of Canadians – who would support MLSE should they take action to properly represent what the war in Afghanistan has meant for the Afghan and Canadian people.

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Canadians have paid $18 billion for the war in Afghanistan, even while the average hockey fan is paying more for housing, health care, child care and transportation than ever before.  On the other side of the ocean, after 12 years of war in Afghanistan, that country is not safer, not wealthier and not more free.  In fact, the Canadian mission has made it worse.  Some 70% of Afghans live in extreme poverty, several thousand civilians are killed each year, and the situation for women in Afghanistan has actually worsened since the occupation began in 2001.

Canadians are told that we are helping to “rebuild” Afghanistan.  Yet less than 10% of the money spent on this war has been in aid and development, and more than half of that money has gone directly into the hands of Canadian corporations who were granted contracts for this “development.”  That leaves only about 5% of the Canadian budget that actually stays in Afghanistan, and that money is typically doled out selectively to allies of the Karzai dictatorship, who often siphon off a big cut for themselves.

The only people who seem to be benefiting from the war are the white-collar millionaires who sit on the boards of Kilo Goldmines, Lockheed Martin, Canaccord Financial, or SRK Consulting, all firms that are profiting handsomely from the war in Afghanistan.  Perhaps it is no surprise that MLSE, whose board of directors includes some of Canada’s biggest corporate bigwigs, are so keen to promote a conflict that is helping their buddies get rich.  MLSE board member Edward Rogers III, for instance, sits on the Economic Council of Canada, where he works directly with federal ministers to promote the interests of Canadian businesses (which, as Stephen Harper recently announced, is the primary purpose of Canada’s foreign policy.)  Rogers sits on the board of governers of Rogers Communications alongside Charles William David Birchall, who chairs a subsidiary of Barrick Gold, a mining company trying to gain access to mineral deposits in the region.   Another big name on the MLSE board, George Cope, is the CEO of Bell Canada, whose directors have sat on key advisory panels on the war in Afghanistan, and have held cabinet positions in the Harper government.

It starts to feel like we’re all being duped.  Canadian soldiers are putting their bodies and mental health on the line.  Canadian civilians are paying the massive cost of the war.  Afghans are being subjected to violence and destruction and dictatorship.  MLSE claims that Forces Appreciation Night supports the men and women who fight for Canada abroad.  But the event ignores the facts about the actual war they are fighting, and in creating a celebratory military spectacle, it has actually done a disservice to soldiers and civilians in Canada and Afghanistan.

The majority of Canadians don’t support this war, and we want our $18 billion dollars back, so we can rebuild our schools and our streets and our subways.  We want Canadian troops brought home and given peace jobs.  We want to give Afghanistan back to the people who live there, and we want to be a country known for our abilities on the ice, not for destroying other people’s lives who we don’t even know. If you want to help us get this message out, send us an email at sportswithoutwar@gmail.com and let’s talk.

* All statistics, if not otherwise hyperlinked, are drawn from an exhaustively researched collection of essays recently published by the University of Toronto Press.  Jerome Klassen and Greg Albo (ed.) Empire’s Ally: Canada and the War in Afghanistan.  Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2013.