TORONTO — A stand against hate took place this weekend on the court and on the ice as two Canadian sports teams — the Toronto Raptors and the Toronto Maple Leafs — visited London, Ont. to spread the unified message that hate has no home.
The Raptors held an open practice at the Budweiser Gardens on Saturday, followed by a Maple Leafs alumni game on Sunday. The two events were held with the aim of remembering the victims of an Islamophobic terror attack that occurred four months prior.
On June 6, members of the Afzaal family were killed in London after a man hit them with his truck in what police have called a targeted, hate-motivated attack. The only survivor was a nine-year-old boy, Fayez, who has recovered from his injuries and is back in school.
The attack sent shockwaves through the community and Canada as a whole.
“This was a deep scar, based on how it happened and the circumstances surrounding it, so it will take some time,” Nawaz Tahir, spokesperson for the London Muslim Mosque, told CTV News. “Unfortunately we keep hearing about different events and attacks and mosques being vandalized across the country […] which sort of spurs that and opens up that wound just a little bit more.”
Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors head coach, said that the sporting events this weekend were held to fight back against hate.
“We wanted to come here,” he said. “It gives us a chance mainly to use our platform to talk about these issues and let everybody know they are welcome.”
Darryl Sittler, a former NHL player who participated in Sunday’s alumni game, told CTV News that there’s no place for hate crimes or discrimination.
“Not in this community or any community,” Sitter said.
In a press conference following the Raptors’ practice, Point Guard Fred Vanvleet said that the team is “against all forms of hatred, and we definitely stand with the Muslim community that was affected here in London.”
Sports can be an important unifying factor during the healing process, Tahir said.
“It’s a very powerful and heartwarming message, especially for our youth who, for many of them sports is a great outlet, an avenue to help them from a psychological perspective,” Tahir said.
The events weren’t just a show of support.
Money raised from the events, along with a $250,000 installation from MLSE Foundation in partnership with the city of London, will go toward refurbishing an outdoor court as a youth legacy project.
In addition, the money will also go towards mental health support as the community continues to heal.