The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Jump Start entitlement

Canadian Tire's "Jump Start" commercial shows a boy, perhaps twelve years of age, who is seeking a part time job at a diner in order to be able to afford to play hockey. The focus of the commercial is that a third of Canadian families are economically unable to enroll their children in organised sports (so Canadian Tire has created a special foundation to help them out).

The underlying assumptions of the commercial are many.

1. Organised sports are a desirable activity for children and teens.

Many studies have demonstrated that participation in organised sports correlates with improved social skills as well as increased health throughout life. However, studies also still show a significant gender difference between monies allocated to girls' organised sports compared to boys'. The commercial passively reinforces the bias. Note, however, that to switch the boy for a girl doesn't just switch the bias, but becomes an active message instead: in much the same way as substituting 'she' for 'he' in most English-language texts.

2. Organised sports necessarily cost significant money to run.

Over the years, we have bought into this one in a big way. It is true that some organised sports require different levels of facilities than others; but have we come to take too much as assumed need? As one example, are indoor facilities always really necessary? It would be interesting to break down the cost of each organised sport, each structure and each league, and see just how many of the costs are truly essential to the basic desire to play a sport at a given competitive level. Let us not forget that all these highly structured activities began as a bunch of kids kicking around a ball on a field.

But take a certain level of cost as necessary, some communal (eg. field maintenance), some personal (eg. personal equipment). The trend for some time has been to privatise this cost, with individual families fronting an increasing percentage of the cost. However, with the benefits of organised sports having been so firmly and consistently supported by independent research, to invest in organised sports is to invest in a country's future. Thus some part of the cost is footed directly by (usually city) taxes, most commonly devoted to facility maintenance. As of the 2007 tax year, another is the Child Fitness Tax Credit, where a family can now claim up to $500 per year per child for enrolment in sports-related activities: though the family still has to be able to afford to spend the money in the first place. (A bone tossed, for consuming physical activity-related production?)

If the results of children's organised sports are indeed so desirable, this places funding of children's organised sports on a level equivalent to education and medical care, with all that follows. Which leads us to ...

3. Organised sports are a fundamental right, an entitlement for every child.

And here we hit the crux of it. Are organised sports a privilege, an expected standard, or a right? We fund them as though they are something desirable but not really necessary, at least, not to every child. All else, we leave to private monies, either the families' or foundations' such as Jump Start.

... but what we used to do, when the child desired something that was not really needed, was to let them earn their way to the desired item.

Instead, what Canadian Tire's commercial tells us is that no child ought to work toward the goal of participating in organised sports: in effect, that it should be an unquestioned right for every child (although the existing legislation and realities clearly tell us otherwise).

How easy it is to extrapolate the message ever so slightly, to gloss other entertainment privileges into an assumed fundamental right?


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