Welcome Party

This will seem like old news, but I am using my blog to work through a conference paper about Canada’s World Cup Qualifier in Panama last September.

So Panama “welcomed” Canada to their country by staging a all night party outside the Team Canada hotel featuring blaring music, chanting, drums, flags, fireworks, sirens, basically anything to keep the Canadians from getting a decent night’s sleep. This was actually encouraged by the Panamanian FA, and worked to good effect as the Canadians didn’t really show up for the game.

What my paper is about is trying to look at the importance of that performance outside the hotel, not just to the distraction of the Canadians, but as a way of asserting a Panamanian nationalism. There are a few parallels between Canada and Panama in the world of soccer: in both countries, they have a strong national tie to a different sport – hockey for Canada and baseball for Panama. This is in part due to the histories and cultures of the nations – Canada had a long winter and a long history with hockey, summer was for football, or possibly baseball. As for Panama, their cultural sport legacy comes from the Panama Canal. As a virtual protectorate of the US through much of the 20th century, they ended up a baseball nation. Look at the world and you will find that the general division of sport powers follows a pattern where British colonies adopted cricket or rugby (and to a lesser degree soccer), British financial colonies – more influenced by their business in the early 20th c. ended up playing soccer, and American protectorates ended up playing baseball.

However, Panama has been on its own (as much as any Latin American country can truly be on their own with their “good neighbors” to the north) since the US turned over control of the Panama Canal in 1999. Soccer seems to be growing in the nation, I would argue as a response to a distancing of the Panamanians from their US history. Over their history ideas of nationalism have come as a reaction against the US presence in their country. The first martyrs for the country were killed in riots against the Americans back in the 1960s and this moment in Panamanian history serves as an important point for the party outside the Canadian hotel almost 50 years later.

Diana Taylor discusses Latin American performance as a form of repertoire in her book The Archive and the Repertoire. Various performances are examined as a way of transmitting cultural memory and making political claims. In this context I am arguing that the party outside the hotel, by a group that was already attuned to nationalist sentiment by wanting to cheer on the Panamanian team were echoing an act of Panamanian nationalism that is directed toward gringos. Now I know that Canadians are not always included in definitions of gringos, but we don’t exist entirely outside those definitions either. In this case, the Canadian team served just as well to play the part of the gringo for the Panamanians.

There is another important echo in the repertoire of this party: Operation Just Cause. While most of the Panamanians keeping the Canadians awake weren’t even born when the riots against the Americans took place, many of them may remember or would have heard from their parents about the last American intervention in Panama in 1989. Operation Just Cause was launched to remove Manuel Noriega from power, as he was a US ally gone bad. The invasion culminated in a siege of the residence that Noriega was hiding in. The American troops deployed a set of loudspeakers that blared music all night long as a form of psychological warfare designed to hasten his surrender.

Well, 22 years later and Panamanian stereos seem to have contributed to a Canadian surrender on the soccer pitch. The reaction in Canada was interesting with many commentators and fans saying that the party wasn’t fair or good sportsmanship, and a few others that seemed to say “Why didn’t we think of that?” Coming after riots in Toronto around the G20 and a riot in Vancouver around the Stanley Cup, I think there was little appetite for that sort of disturbance in Canada. Another interesting point is the way that Canadian sports analysts described the Panama party as an expected part of playing in CONCACAF. This is in no way reserved to the Latin American nations, during Euro Qualifiers in 2011, the Portuguese team was greeted at the Sarajevo airport by Bosnian fans who particularly enjoyed mocking Cristiano Ronaldo. They also followed the team bus and even used laser pointers on the Portuguese players during the warmups. Gamesmanship is by no means a preserve of Latin America, if Canada is going to play with the big boys we’ve got to be ready to play against (and like) the big boys.

So a quick shout out to the CanMNT, who play on Saturday against Denmark, and Tuesday vs. USA. Go Canada!

Oh, and if I’m on to anything in this paper we’ll see how Panama greets the US this summer during the final stage of World Cup Qualifiers.

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