Canada’s Chinese Community Celebrates Beijing Winter Games Amidst Pride and Scruples

TORONTO – Longtime Olympic fan Malinda Lee is experiencing the best of both worlds this year, as a Team Canada fan and someone who has always been proud of her Chinese heritage.

Watching the Winter Games with the family is a beloved tradition, and this year will be even more special as sporting prowess returns to Beijing.

“It’s very exciting, Beijing is steeped in so much history and my parents love their homeland,” said Lee, a public relations consultant in Winnipeg.

But while her family likes to cheer on their international favourites, she adds, “Growing up, my sisters and I watched the Olympics with our dad, and we cheered on Team Canada. One of my clearest childhood Olympic memories is of my dad singing ‘O Canada’ every time he performed on the podium like he was right there.

“The kids thought it was weird, but I understand now. It is pride.

Of course, this edition of the Winter Games is taking place in extraordinary circumstances. Due to COVID-19, organizers and government officials have imposed strict policies that prohibit most in-person spectators and prohibit locals from greeting Olympic stars. This has not only altered the energy around the event itself, but threatens to drain the interest of fans who might otherwise be watching from home.

Recent chatter on social media seems just as likely to revolve around why many would-be viewers have vowed to tune out this year – either out of protest or out of sheer ambivalence.

Politically, tensions remain high between the two countries since the recent release of Canadian detainees Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and with China’s ongoing human rights abuses against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

In December, Canada, along with the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and Denmark, announced a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics, with government officials refusing to attend.

According to an Angus Reid poll, just over half of Canadians polled supported this decision.

Scruples about celebrating the Beijing Olympics persist throughout the Chinese community, says Teresa Woo-Paw, president of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, the Asian Heritage Foundation and the ACCT Foundation.

“Many people are looking forward to this great event with mixed feelings, and I think maybe there will be a better time in terms of the relationship between (China and Canada),” she said.

Still, adds Woo-Paw, Canada’s long-standing Chinese community is keen to celebrate its roots.

“I came 50 years ago,” she says. “(The community) is constantly changing, especially with the current wave of immigrants mainly from mainland China, so there is a sense of pride.

“It’s such a prestige to host an Olympic event and Olympians from all over the world. … I think a lot of people feel a sense of pride and certainly excitement … and are also eager to follow how Canadian athletes are experiencing China.

If you ask Michael Grit, Ontario’s decision to ease lockdown restrictions couldn’t have come at a better time, landing as it did between Lunar New Year celebrations and the Games.

He says many members of the Chinese community in Toronto are especially eager to see the Olympic rings return to their home country, ideally with other sports fans and in a setting that suits the occasion.

“We want to see this historic moment together and experience it on a big, big screen — much bigger than your average flat screen, I can tell you,” says Grit, director of the Chinese Cultural Center of Toronto.

The center was due to screen Friday’s opening ceremony at an eastern cinema for the first time since lockdown with a pre-show reception and breakfast, followed by a viewing party and then a mix of donuts and much more. – need coffee.

The theater usually seats more than 600 people, but due to pandemic restrictions and a social distancing effort, it was expecting around 100 guests.

Yet, amid a punitive fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the possibility of even attempting a modified return to normal is welcome.

“We celebrate the Olympics, we celebrate this moment in China, we celebrate our Canadian athletes and we celebrate the return of the guests to the center,” adds Grit.

While the pandemic may limit the number and verve of celebrations this year, some families, friends and Olympic fans are planning events to honor hometown favorites, including Canada’s women’s curling team. .

In Winnipeg, home of much of the team, fans plan to gather in Team Canada colors at the St. Vital Curling Club for a free pancake breakfast on February 10 to watch them play their first match.

The club’s marketing director Patti Ulrich said they wanted to “show our love and support”.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 3, 2002.

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