Football, Nationalism, and Protectionism: The Federal Defence of the CFL Football League

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Valentine, John Gerard




In 1974, Canada’s Liberal minority government acted to protect the Canadian Football League (CFL) from competition by introducing Bill C-22, which promised harsh penalties for anyone operating a football franchise connected to a foreign-based league or team. This legislation was the culmination of a series of measures by which the government had protected the CFL in the early 1960s and 1970s. A number of factors combined to prompt government involvement. From its earliest days, Canadian football was a nationalist concern. The desire to create a distinctly Canadian pastime led early organizers to differentiate it from English rugby and American football by developing and defending distinctive rules for the game. Football associations developed as domestic rather than cross-border organizations, fostering a congruence of the national territory and the Canadian version of the game. The organizational structure of Canadian football reinforced the east-west axis of transcontinental transportation and communications infrastructure fostered by the state since Confederation. Team and regional rivalries became a staple of print and radio news and commentary, integrating football into the national discourse. Following the Second World War, the identification of Canadian football with the Canadian nation intensified as televised games provided fans with more shared experiences of the only Canadian sports league. Fuelled by concerns about growing American cultural influence, nationalism was on the rise in Canada. This, accompanied by the building of the welfare state resulted in more government intervention than countenanced previously. The government introduced policies designed to protect Canadian culture, and, by extension, national identity. When unity became a concern, it was felt that the CFL, and the Grey Cup game in particular, could be used to help unite east and west, French and English. The federal government intervened to support the CFL on three occasions: first in 1962 when the CBC was forced to broadcast the Grey Cup game; secondly in 1972 when the CFL was considering American expansion; and finally in 1974 when the CFL was threatened by American competition. This football protectionist moment represents a high-water mark of nationalist state intervention in the postwar period.


Canadian Studies
Canadian History




Carleton University

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Canadian Studies

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Theses and Dissertations

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