Canada's Indo-Canadian population is fuming over CBC's quiet cancellation of the Punjabi-language broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada. Ishani Nath on the controversy, the fight, and the whys behind the show's overwhelming popularity.

Canada's Indo-Canadian population is fuming over CBC's quiet cancellation of the Punjabi-language broadcast of Hockey Night in Canada. Ishani Nath on the controversy, the fight, and the whys behind the show's overwhelming popularity.

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Don Cherry may be dominating hockey headlines but Indo-Canadians are more concerned about the recent cancellation of Hockey Night in Canada’s Punjabi-language broadcast.

“We will not be continuing on with our Punjabi language broadcast this season as we are unable to secure a sponsor,” said CBC spokesperson Chris Ball in an email. In the past, CBC has helped fund the program, but according to Ball this season the network is unable to “offset the production cost for this initiative.”

The Punjabi edition of the popular sports program made hockey accessible to the growing population of Canadians who speak Punjabi – the fourth most spoken language in the nation, according to Statistics Canada. Initially piloted as an experiment during the 2008 Stanley Cup finals, the program quickly became a cultural phenomenon garnering enough support to continue through four seasons.  

“Broadcasting games in Punjabi was a great experience that the entire HNIC team was very proud of,” said Ball, “As each broadcast was another opportunity for us to all celebrate two of Canada’s strengths, our cultural diversity and our shared passion for hockey.”

With the Punjabi community’s strong support for Vancouver’s playoff run last season and the increased media attention the program received, audiences were surprised to hear that the show was not renewed for the 2012/2013 season.

“We’re very disappointed especially since last year was such a great year and there was so much support from the community,” said Sukhpreet Singh, a loyal fan and the creator of the show’s official Facebook group which boasts over 4,000 members.  

Harnarayan Singh, who co-hosted the program with Amarinder Singh, said he’s saddened that the show won’t be airing this season because for him, “it was a dream come true.” Born and raised in southern Alberta, Harnarayan said that he saw how the Canadian game could unify even the most diverse groups, both on and off the ice.

“Hockey is what created common ground between myself and my friends because when we talked about hockey, when we played hockey,” he said, “that was when they forgot that I looked different.”

Sukhpreet adds that Harnarayan’s story is not unique.

“It’s beyond just any broadcast,” said Sukhpreet. “It serves so many purposes: bringing together generations, inspiring young Punjabis to be more engaged in sports and be active, introducing them to what Canadian culture is like. There’s so many purposes so it’s hard to put it in a couple words, the affect that its had on the community.”

Last October, CBC terminated the program due to a lack of funding, but vehement protests and online petitions convinced executives to reverse their decision, and they agreed to reinstate the show by December 2010. One year later, the program is now facing the same issue, giving viewers the sense that they are “back to square one,” says Sukhpreet.  

Ball says that if the CBC is able to secure a sponsor for the show, the network will bring the program back but according to Sukhpreet, the routine threats of cancellation are not helping to attract sponsors.

“The fact that they threaten to cancel it every year doesn’t help going forward,” he said.

Nevertheless, the Facebook leader added Punjabi audiences are once again prepared to drop the gloves and fight for the show.

“We’re going to make sure that they hear from the community,” he said.  “The message was sent loud and clear last year. This is something that the community is enjoying, they’re supporting and [something] the community wants.”

With its evident fan base and community impact, Sukhpreet says that all that it needed is a commitment from CBC showing that “they’re willing to carry this forward.”

According to Sukhpreet, this issue is about more than just a Punjabi-language broadcast, “It’s about hockey and really bringing everyone together around the game.”

Over the years, Ishani Nath has explored a variety of journalistic avenues including reporting and editing for McMaster’s Incite magazine and writing a column for Talentegg’s Incubator. She is currently enrolled in the Masters of Journalism program at Ryerson University where she continues to learn the complexities of the craft each day.