With mountains to ski, ice to skate, lakes to swim and oceans to sail, Canadians can be forgiven for being a little sport mad. Whether it’s supporting or participating, you can find a sport to engage with every evening and weekend whatever the weather. All this is great news for anyone thinking of moving to Canada because, as a recent study has shown, sport helps expats integrate into Canada and can be a great way for expats to feel at home in a foreign country.
The Institute for Canadian Citizenship has taken a look at how, why, where and when sport can help connect expats to the wider Canadian community and improve their experience of a new life in this vast, beautiful country. The study clearly shows advantages to both watching and playing sport for anyone trying to assimilate into Canadian life.
New Citizens Want to Play
An astounding 85% of new arrivals seek and gain citizenship, giving Canada the highest naturalisation in the World. For the 250,000 new citizens who settle in Canada every year, sport can play an important part in helping them settle and feel at home. From building language skills to making Canadian friends, there are clear advantages to joining in and taking part in sport.
The ICC’s study showed that new citizens feel overwhelmingly positive about sport and the vast majority are keen to participate, either as a player or fan.
An Infectious Love of Sport
From children playing hockey in the street to world famous athletes achieving gold medals in Olympic stadia, Canadians love playing, watching and talking about sports.
Ice hockey in particular is a national obsession and part of the country’s identity, so much so that it’s even printed on their money! The laid back crowds and easy to follow rules allow adults and children alike to fall in love with this truly national sport.
Canada’s passion for sport has led to the country hosting several large sporting events including two Winter Olympics, one Summer Olympics and the recent Women’s World Cup. This particularly helps expats settle into their home as it not only put Canada on the world stage but also creates a national focus to unite all Canadians, new and old.
Which Sports do New Citizens Play and Watch?
This sporting fervour inspires many new citizens to join a local sports team or club or even begin following one of their local professional teams regularly. But which sports particularly attract those new to Canadian life? The study surveyed recent arrivals both through online questionnaires and regional focus groups and looked closely at how expats chose to engage in sport.
In terms of participation, the new citizens surveyed showed a preference for solitary sports such as running (39%), swimming (32%) and cycling (25%). While this shows new citizens may be anxious about joining an established team, it demonstrates their determination to stay involved in sport and keep fit.
An interest in team sports is, however, clearly evident. The vast majority of new citizens surveyed expressed a strong interest in following professional sporting events, in particular soccer (80%), hockey (71%) and basketball (66%).
What Stops New Citizens Playing More Team Sports?
While sport can be an incredible tool to help integrate new citizens, the study also identified a number of issues preventing expats from participating in group activities. Particular barriers included;
- Time/Cost: During the first few years of settling in Canada, expats typically have little time or disposable income as they focus on finding their feet in their new job as well as ensuring their home life and family remain happy and balanced during the difficult ‘settling in’ process. This can mean there is little time or money left to join in organised teams and sports.
- ‘Highly Organised’ Teams and Groups: While the level of time and effort put into keeping local sports clubs structured and focused is a joy to behold, this organisation can be intimidating to outsiders who fear they will not ‘fit in’.
- Fear of the Unknown: Many of Canada’s most popular team sports such as ice hockey, basketball and baseball are simply not as well known in other countries. Taking part in a team sport with unfamiliar rules and structure can be intimidating, but learning together is ultimately a rewarding bonding experience.
- Language Barrier: As most information and communication regarding sports teams and organisations is, as you would expect, in one of the native languages of English or French. Subsequently, those new citizens still getting to grips with these languages can feel cut off, particularly due to the specialist and colloquial language that surrounds sport. The physical nature of sport, however, make it a great way to interact and communicate with limited language skills and is also a great way of practicing and perfecting English or French.
Involving More Expats in Sport
These barriers are, of course, far from insurmountable. Many teams and groups are already taking steps to ensure new citizens can enjoy watching and playing a wide variety of sports. The ICC insight study recommended the following ways to include expats in sport;
Create an Online List of All Teams and Clubs Across Canada: Using the internet to provide a simple, searchable list of all sports, teams and clubs town by town would make it easier to find out how to get involved and what is available.
Provide New Citizens With More Information: Use opportunities such as welcome packs and English and French classes to provide expats with leaflets and materials about local sporting venues and events.
Free Trials for Expats: To help overcome the financial barrier, allowing new arrivals to sample activities for free would allow them to join in before committing to a monthly or weekly fee.
Promote Work-based Sporting Teams and Clubs: Encouraging work places to have company teams and groups not only helps improve bonding and fitness throughout the workplace but also encourages expat employees to join in and get to know their colleagues.
Discounted Tickets for Sporting Events: Whether it’s watching your town win an ice hockey game to seeing the country unite behind the national team, attending a sporting event is not just an exciting night out, it is an insight into Canadian culture. Making this important step towards becoming a ‘local’ more affordable would encourage more new citizens to become fans as well as participants.
Play, Watch, Join In
The clear message from this study is that sport has many huge advantages for all new Canadians. As well as the obvious health benefits, taking up a sport can help expats meet other people and make local friends for life. Sport can also help a new citizen feel part of a wider community and improve their language skills. Supporting and following teams can also help unite new citizens and established Canadians.
While there are some barriers to sport, there is much being done to ensure this excellent icebreaker is available to all expats. However, the easiest way to include new arrivals in sports is simply for colleagues and friends to invite them to join in. Canada’s passion for sport and overwhelming friendliness should ensure all new citizens feel encouraged and welcomed.