Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Eradicating Poverty is a Lot Like Winning at Hockey

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, October 20 / 14

Zack Gross

This year, the Brandon Wheat Kings started off the WHL season very well indeed and we can only hope that the Winnipeg Jets squeak into the NHL playoffs in the spring!  Hockey, love it or hate it, is indeed a part of our Canadian culture and men in particular philosophize on life using hockey analogies. 

A father concerned about the development of his teenage son may remind him, if he thinks he is lazy, that he should always “give 110% percent” and if that son (or daughter!) seems to be losing concentration at important moments, they might be reminded to “keep your stick on the ice!” 

So, if hockey is so effective at organizing our thinking and Canadians’ perception of life, how can we use it to end world hunger?  Canadians are reputed to be high on the list of global citizenry who are generous and care about the poor, the environment and the building of peace relations. 

United Nations Days “International Day for the Eradication of Global Poverty” and “World Food Day” takes place every year on October 16th and 17th just as the hockey season is getting into full swing.

We’ve tried everything else – generous aid programs, the United Nations development and peacekeeping programs, NATO air strikes – and still we face seemingly overwhelming global problems.  But we haven’t tried to find solutions that are tried and true in hockey!

When a team is not doing well, like the Jets were not about two-thirds of the way through last season, they might decide to replace their coach.  After all, you can’t fire twenty players, but one coach is different!  Do we need to fire some folks who we’ve installed in jobs that would make our world a better place?  Politicians, bureaucrats, corporate and union bosses – who is to blame for the mess in which we find ourselves?  What have they done, or not done, to deserve their positions?

While you can’t fire twenty players, you could trade one or two for someone better or for a draft choice.  The Wheat Kings pulled off a big trade recently and some folks are concerned that the Jets haven’t done that! With new players, there is new energy, new skills, and new leadership.  Does this say anything about new thinking and energy needing to be added in upcoming elections here and overseas?  Or is the problem that even new blood wouldn’t be the answer given that the team budget is small and the problems are huge?

When a team is doing poorly, one way to distract potential opposition is to add a flashy new uniform, or a new scoreboard, new washrooms in the arena (recently done at the MTS Centre) or even build a whole new building!  Can we “dress up” our inability to handle the world’s many challenges so that at least we look good? 

It could be better technology at press conferences or snappier uniforms on our soldiers, a new fleet of helicopters or ships.  Technological innovation is not a bad thing but does it change fundamental problems?  When are we just installing new deck chairs on the Titanic instead of turning the ship around?

Ultimately, a hockey team needs to pay for its players, its arena, its equipment, travel and so on.  To do that, aside from advertising revenues, it needs to put people in the stands, or as they like to say, bums in the seats.  Is that a parallel to having more citizens getting out to cast their vote or running for office, or getting involved in their communities?  Having a full arena doesn’t guarantee that the home team will win but it is acknowledged that it does help.

“Getting hot” at just the right time is the final allusion I’ll use in tying putting a winning hockey team on the ice to putting a winning human team on our planet.  And this is certainly just the right time.  With ebola, climate change, war and many other adversities facing our species, we need to get hot.  We need to make the decisions that help us tackle (oops - that’s football!) the problems we face.  A last place team can often make a run late in a season, racking up enough victories to at least make the playoffs and live another day or week – or, who knows, win the Cup!

If we can be as informed and passionate about tackling global problems as we often are about the fate of our favourite hockey, soccer, football or basketball team, there is no telling what we can accomplish.  Taking it one game at a time, not getting too high or too low, we can change the world while just going out there and having fun!


Zack Gross spends most of his time worrying about the world but relaxes by following hockey.  He is a former Executive Director of Brandon’s The Marquis Project.


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