Oh my word – I am in full swing geek-out here. I love figure skating. I was never really a skater myself, although I do love to skate. But I married a former competitive figure skater (ice dance), and my daughters skate. All in all, our family is often at the rink four or five times a week.
I also love the Olympics. I know that they’re far from perfect, and I’ve noticed that in my liberal-academic milieu it’s not really in vogue to be pro-Olympics. There’s plenty to analyze around gender/race/materialism/capitalism/nationalism/empire/human rights/etc. Don’t get me wrong – I love me some good social deconstruction. But when it comes to the Olympics, I just feel like, “Come on. Do we have to be angry about something all the time?” Because for all their faults, I really do support an endeavour where countries from all over the world come together in peaceful competition. Where athletes compete fiercely against each other, but come together and support each other too – across national boundaries. I was watching when the Russian cross-country skiier broke his pole and ski, and was impressed with his determination to finish the race regardless. And I was touched when the Canadian coach ran out and gave him a new ski. And no, I don’t think it was because he was “Canadian” and we’re all just so nice. Other coaches and other athletes from other countries have done similar things. The Norwegian coach that gave the Canadian skiier a new pole when hers broke during the Torino Olympics – costing his team a medal in the process. Or when Canadian sailor Larry Lemieux sailed off course in the 1988 Seoul Olympics to help the Singapore sailors who capsized, and would have drowned without Lemieux (who also gave up a medal to go see if they needed help).
But I digress. Let’s just say that Sochi isn’t helping with the comprehensive exams studying.
Here’s why I’m geeking-out. We watch a lot of figure skating in this house, and my husband coaches. It’s obvious that figure skating tends to be a very “white” or “Asian” sport. There are important exceptions – Surya Bonaly anyone? She kicks butt. But sitting through countless hours of kids’ figure skating lessons in a pretty culturally diverse city, I’ve often noted that every child on the ice is either “white” or “Asian-descent.” Among the “white” kids, there are new Canadians – and they’re all Russian (and tend to be very good). Seriously, it’s in the genes or something. The only exception to this is in some learn-to-skate classes my husband has coached. There, the majority of skaters were a bit older than “white Canadian” kids tend to start, and were almost all new Canadians (not from European countries). I have a theory about this. My oldest daughter is in an “elite” skating class, and all the parents there (including us) give the same reason for starting their kids in skating: “Canadian kids need to know how to skate. It’s part of a Canadian childhood.” Class field trips, friends’ birthday parties, skating parties, skating with friends on weekends, etc. In other words, while all these children have been selected by some of the best coaches in Canada as potentially gifted skaters, none of the parents put them in skating because they saw them as potential competitors, but because they(we) saw them as Canadian kids.
Immigrant communities — whether they’re coming to Canada in 2014, or came in 1914 — go through a similar process of adjustment. One part of that is second and third generations assuming the cultural norms of the host culture. So, in this case, while first generation parents are primarily concerned with getting life established (finding work, housing, navigating a new school system, health care, making sure their families are adjusting okay, etc. etc. etc.), as the community is here longer they begin to move on to secondary and tertiary concerns. So, there are plenty of second, third, and even first generation kids in our girls’ club. But their “communities” are established “Canadians” – even though some of the parents are themselves immigrants. Also, in some of their home countries figure skating is also a big deal (Russia, Japan, China).
So, what’s my point? Well, aside from enjoying the combination of migration theory and figure skating, I’ve been sort of watching the Canadian figure skating scene and wondering when we’ll have our first hijab wearing competitive skater. I haven’t seen one yet, and if she’s out there she hasn’t made it to Juniors and is still in lower level competitions. And when she comes (and I’m sure she will come) what will her costume look like? The ISU has pretty strict guideline about what a woman can wear in competition, and it’s well known that within those rules there are definite standards and expectations that can seriously affect a competitor’s mark. That’s right – if the judges don’t like what you’re wearing, it will probably show up in your marks. How would judges respond to what would have to be a modified costume? Is it allowable under current guidelines? I was idly thinking about this since the Sochi games began, and then I found THIS (or should I say HER):
Zahra Lari is a figure skater competing at the Olympics on behalf of the UAE. She’s not a medal contender, and didn’t begin skating until she was 11 (ancient for a girl by figure skating standards – none of the women on the Canadian team started after the age of 3, our daughters started when they were 2 – you get the idea). But she’s out there, and she’s doing it! And she’s still young. She should definitely have another Olympics or two in her career.
In the UAE they call her their “Ice Princess,” and she’s getting a lot of support. No wonder – she’s the first figure skater to compete at the Olympics from the region. Clearly yet another example where a woman in hijab is oppressed and can’t pursue her own dreams … oh wait.