U.S. women boycott IIHF worlds, protest treatment by USA Hockey

The U.S. women’s national hockey team has had enough with what it claims are inequities and mistreatment at the hands of USA Hockey.

The players announced on Wednesday that they would not play in the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship, which begins in Plymouth, Michigan, on March 31, unless “significant progress has been made on the year-long negotiations with USA Hockey over fair wages and equitable support.”

The U.S women’s team has been the more successful of the nation’s two hockey teams in recent years: Winning two silver medals in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics and winning seven of the last nine gold medals at the IIHF world championships.

Yet the players feel that USA Hockey hasn’t rewarded that success with equitable wages, support and promotion, going as far as to say they aren’t complying with the law.

Here’s the statement from USWNT, via Hilary Knight:

The members of the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team announce that we will not be playing in the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Plymouth, Michigan, unless significant progress has been made on the year-long negotiations with USA Hockey over fair wages and equitable support.

We have asked USA Hockey for equitable support as required by the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act. Specifically, we have asked for equitable support in the areas of financial compensation, youth team development, equipment, travel expenses, hotel accommodations, meals, staffing, transportation, marketing and publicity.

The goals of our requests are to achieve fair treatment from USA Hockey, to initiate appropriate steps to correct the outlined issues, and to move forward with a shared goal of promoting and growing girls and women in our sport while representing the United States in future competitions, including the Women’s World Championship.

Putting on the USA jersey represents the culmination of many years of hard work and sacrifice that reflect our love of both hockey and country. In making these requests, we are simply asking USA Hockey to comply with the law.

If some of this sounds familiar, it should: The U.S. women’s national soccer team had its own recent battles with the U.S. Soccer Federation about wages and compliance, with five members filing a wage-discrimination suit against USSF.

Julie Foudy, former national soccer star and now a writer for ESPNW.com, drew that comparison in a piece that ran on Wednesday morning announcing the women’s hockey team’s boycott:

“We train all day, every day, all year, to represent our country at the Olympics and the world championships. We train for these moments. We don’t want to miss them. And it is hard to believe that in 2017 we still have to fight for equitable treatment and support as women. But we do,” says U.S. captain Meghan Duggan. “We think about players that have come before us, like Cammi Granato, who fought for us and were unsuccessful. We know we have no choice but to speak up about the unfair treatment. That is the only way things will change.”

Even though it is USA Hockey’s legal obligation as the governing body to develop opportunities for both boys and girls, according to the U.S women it spends more than $3.5 million per year to support boys participating in its national team development program. That $3.5 million goes to support a schedule of more than 60 games a season for teenage boys, with no comparable development opportunities for girls.

Furthering the conversation on wages:

“Out of a four-year cycle, USA Hockey pays for only six months out of an entire four years. They pay us $1,000 per month in those six months. So, for the other 42 months we don’t get paid at all by USA Hockey,” says Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, a two-time Olympic silver medalist. “It is a full-time job and to not get paid is a financial burden and stress on the players, obviously. That is the conversation my husband and I are having right now. Is playing going to be more stress than we can handle? Sadly it becomes a decision between chasing your dream or giving in to the reality of the financial burden.”

The problems extend to how the players are marketed:

To give you another picture of how USA Hockey operates, I take you back to the uniform unveiling news conference prior to the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. This was the unveiling of the Nike uniform to be worn by both the men and the women in Sochi. Even though the women’s team was touted as a gold-medal contender, USA Hockey invited only the men’s team to the uniform unveiling and, according to the women, they had to learn about it by watching it on TV.

We asked USA Hockey for comment, and they said a statement is forthcoming.

This boils down to a few basic issues.

The first, obviously, is whether USA Hockey is somehow in violation of the law.

From a NY Daily News piece on the battle between the women’s soccer team and USSF, here’s part of the Ted Stevens Act:

US Soccer must “provide equitable support and encouragement for participation by women where separate programs for male and female athletes are conducted on a national basis.” The Women’s National Team is by name equal to the Men’s National Team and the language of the act refers to participation in “world championships.” That should mean it is entitled to equitable support and encouragement in every aspect, aside from those supports its members have bargained away in their employment contracts (what is known as their collective bargaining agreements). That would include coaching budgets, working conditions and development.

Without knowing the numbers, there’s zero chance that the budget for shipping NHL players to worlds vs. that for the women’s team is anywhere near equal.

But another issue is one that USA Hockey has to answer for itself: How does one grow the sport?

It’s not by preaching to the converted. It’s by reaching out to the non-believers and convincing them how great hockey is.

You do that with grassroots hockey programs. You do that with increased funding to get little girls playing the sport at a young age, so that you create a lifelong devotion to the game and develop new players in nontraditional place – where are you, gender-flipped Auston Matthews?

And you do that through representation; sometimes, it’s something as simple as having a women’s player on the same stage as the men at a jersey unveiling, and sometimes it’s something bolder like putting on a national team game in an NHL arena, as Foudy notes on ESPN:

“For years we have asked for more games on our schedule. And more games in bigger NHL venues, as we know we can sell them out,” Duggan says. “USA Hockey’s response was, ‘Why don’t you play in smaller venues so you can pack them. What if people don’t come to the bigger venue?’ We would say to them, ‘And what if they DO?'”

(For the record, this was the same argument — almost to the word — that U.S. Soccer made to us back in the ’90s. And guess what? The fans came.)

Good on the American women for fighting this fight.

They’re going to get slammed for pulling this stunt with the IIHF worlds being on American ice this year — no doubt, it’ll be seen as hypocritical to hit USA Hockey for not growing the women’s game as they punt on a chance to grow the women’s game. But ultimately, that growth and that sustainability is going to come from getting more institutional support from their governing body, and not just adding another gold to the trophy case.

As the NHL digs its heels in to get even more than it already had from the IOC and the IIHF, and USA Hockey waits patiently by its side, the women’s national team just wants its fair share.

God forbid you reward the team that actually wins stuff.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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