March 17, 2017

U.S. Women’s Hockey standing firm in their Boycott

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The U.S. women's national hockey team won't budge in their demands for equal pay and development programs for girls, and are boycotting the program with the world championships right around the corner.

After members of the U.S. women’s national hockey team decided Wednesday to boycott the upcoming World Championship over stalled negotiations for increased wages and support, USA Hockey’s executive director, Dave Ogrean, announced that he looked forward “to continuing our discussions” with the players.

But before Ogrean made that announcement, players had received an email with an ultimatum: Decide by 5 p.m. Thursday whether they planned on reporting to training camp Tuesday, apparently so the federation could move on without them if they did not change their stance.

The deadline has since passed, and the players have not changed their stance. USA Hockey’s response this time only appears to have strengthened the players’ resolve.

“That’s a deadline that was subjective from U.S.A. Hockey to put pressure on us to fold,” Hilary Knight, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, told The New York Times. “But everyone’s very passionate and extremely united.”

USA Hockey, the sport’s national governing body, are now left considering a multitude of options moving forward: build a new team of players before the tournament’s March 31 opening, host the World Championship without a team, or listen to the national team’s demands and try to come to some sort of compromise.

About 90 minutes after Thursday’s deadline passed, a USA Hockey spokesperson said the organization’s objective was to “continue to work toward ensuring the players that have been selected for the team are those that represent the United States in the world championship.”

There needed to be “significant progress” in discussions, the veteran player Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said Thursday night. “We are ready to work with U.S.A. Hockey and start talking about what progress looks like,” she said.

The players are seeking upgrades that include a raise in compensation that would better assist them with living wages; currently, USA Hockey provides only $1,000 per month during the six-month Olympic residency period every four years. The players are additionally seeking more investment in girls’ hockey programs and development efforts, including more competitive games during non-Olympic years.

Jim Smith, the president of USA Hockey, said Wednesday that his organization’s role “is not to employ athletes, and we will not do so.”

During the 2015-16 fiscal year, USA Hockey had $42.37 million in revenue — a large portion coming from membership fees, which accounted for $26.5 million, according to audited financial statements posted on its website. The National Hockey League donated $9 million to the USA Hockey Foundation, the organization’s charity.

Much of USA Hockey’s financial commitments seem to be focused on the construction of its new complex in Plymouth, Mich., which is focused on developing its men’s teams. Financial documents do not specify payments to women’s programs, although its foundation spent $33,440 on the Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the top player in college women’s hockey.

USA Hockey said Wednesday it expects to field a competitive team at the World Championships, regardless of the status of any boycott — the tournament is being hosted at the aforementioned facility in Michigan. But non-national team players from the National Women’s Hockey League have expressed their support for national team players so the federation’s only option appeared to be asking juniors to compete.

Knight and her teammates are fully prepared for the event USA Hockey reaches out to the top junior talent to play as their replacements. However, many younger players have also pledged their support for the national team players through phone calls and on social media.

“I talked with a handful today and they said they’re on board and behind us and thanked us for what we’re doing,” Knight said. “Really, this is for them. This is for the future of our program. They’re well beyond their years for recognizing that.”

Using junior players in the tournament could lead to even more grave problems. Aside from the obvious gap in talent levels from Canadian and European players compared to juniors, a team of younger, smaller players would be susceptible to more injuries, and concussions in women’s hockey are a growing problem.

“We hope eventually they want to give us a call and give us a talk,” Lamoureux-Davidson said Thursday. “We’re ready to sit at a table and figure this out.”

Information from The New York Times contributed to this report.

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