Groundswell: A Sport Movement is Happening in Toronto and the Feeling is Good

Last night I was driving back from the Niagara Region, having spent a couple of days out of town for celebratory reasons, and as per usual I was listening to sports on AM radio. I’m not sure how many folks across Canada, let alone in Toronto, would rather listen to sports on the radio then watch live, but I’ve found it less anxiety provoking. Moreover, the commentators are AWESOME!

At the beginning of the NBA playoffs, the few times I watched the Raptors-Pacers series I felt nauseous at what I was witnessing: terrible shooting, sloppy plays, bad decision-making, etc. The Raptors were getting their jinx/demons out but as a fan it made me ambivalent about being so committed to the franchise. However, after listening to their second half dismantling of the Miami Heat in Game 7 of Round 2, my ambivalence has subsided and I feel good about whatever happens here on in. This team has broken a number of major franchise records, and they are making the rest of the NBA (and the broadcasting landscape of the USA) pay attention and take them seriously.

There is a bigger sport movement going on in Toronto right now that is pushing all teams to be better, expect better, win Championships and rally their fans. When I was listening to the Raptors-Heat game last night, I took a few moments here and there to switch over the Toronto Blue Jays-Texas Rangers game, which was ridiculous (full coverage is here and a great Sportsnet analysis here). At the heart of what happened was Texas crying over spilled milk from last years Blue Jays playoff win. They didn’t, and still don’t like how the Jays play with pride, guts, big bats and no apologies. Well, too bad … that’s the kind of competitive edge you need at the professional level.

As the owner of the majority of professional sport franchises in the city (the Blue Jays are owned by Rogers), Maple Leaf Sport and Entertainment has done a good job of investing in better leadership, coaching and talent over the last few years, and this is part of the reason why Toronto’s expectations and the appetite for sport has become insatiable. As Toronto FC continues to gel and improve, as the Toronto Argos settle into their new home at BMO Field, and as the Toronto Maple Leafs rebuild with one of the best coaches in the NHL, Toronto will be experiencing more thrilling games and successes, not to mention a Championship or two or three. I’m excited … how about you?

PS: Tomorrow, May 17, is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia – honour, educate and celebrate accordingly!

PPS: Round 3 of the NBA playoffs begins tomorrow night at 8:30 p.m. where the Raptors take on the Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Woohoo!



Sport Infrastructure Part 2: MLSE LaunchPad Coming to Moss Park

Over the last decade there has been a tremendous push for increased sport infrastructure in Ontario, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area where demand is high. TORONTO2015 was part of this spark, but I believe sport enthusiasts and community-driven leaders have succeeded in convincing those in powerful positions about the positive impact sport has on marginalized communities and youth. So it comes as no surprise that Maple Leaf Sport and Entertainment (MLSE) has taken the lead on a fantastic initiative in downtown Toronto called MLSE LaunchPad.

MLSE LaunchPad — in partnership with the MLSE Foundation, Toronto Community Housing Corporation and City of Toronto — will transform a space at 261 Jarvis Street (in the heart of Moss Park) that has been vacant for two decades. A 42,000 sq ft facility will be built and dedicated to Sport For Development* programming and address a range of community priorities such as education, improved health and community safety. It will be the first of its kind in North America.

Opening in 2017, MLSE LaunchPad will include a multipurpose gymnasium, classrooms and a teaching kitchen. It will feature programming seven days a week that will focus on four pillars with sport at the core: healthy body; healthy mind; ready for school; ready for work. The facility will encourage teamwork, resilience and striving for excellence; promote a healthy and active lifestyle; provide education on nutrition to encourage healthy eating habits; and teach life skills to prepare young people for school and work.

Additionally, the Ontario Government is investing $1.6 million over four years, which will support evaluation and research team staffing, training and support for non-profit organizations to develop their youth service capacity and the development of measurement indicators and baseline metrics.

This is really thrilling! What a win for residents of Moss Park and the city as a whole.

[*The Sport for Development movement in Canada involves community sport projects that intentionally use sport to build healthy communities, to train the next generation of leaders and to influence government at all levels to adopt more inclusive and robust sport-related policies.]

It’s that Time of Year: Playoffs

Last night I was hoping for some spunk, passion and urgency from the Toronto Raptors. Out of 48 minutes, there were 10-12 minutes of good basketball, the rest made me cringe. Something dramatic needs to be done to fix what’s wrong with the Raptors and sports in Toronto in general.

Maple Leaf Sport and Entertainment (MLSE) is at the helm of three major sports franchises in the city, which is by far the leading hub of professional sports in the country. They are responsible for our teams lack of success. They need to provide genuine and good leadership from the top that is matched with long-term vision – this is the only way to find post-season success.

Listening to Dwayne Casey’s comments during the post-Game 2 press conference, I yearned for more honesty. We, the fans, are owed more than diplomacy, we want blunt observations and then action. Basketball fans know that the Raptors are not the best in the league, that we have problems, but what’s got us to this place as a franchise is passion and solid offense. Last night, I just didn’t see it – I saw a defeatism that says that our players don’t believe in themselves, that they’re lost.

Game 3 could be a turning point, but only if the things that work start working and stay that way from beginning to end. Washington is a good team, but we make them look better when we undermine ourselves.