When the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship tournament comes to Michigan this week, the defending champions may be conspicuously absent.
The fifteen months of negotiations between the U.S. Women’s National Team and USA Hockey came to a head on Wednesday, March 15th, when members of the team tweeted a coordinated statement announcing they would boycott the 2017 IIHF World Championships unless “significant progress” was made towards a compromise. “We have asked USA Hockey for equitable support as required by the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act,” the statement read. “Specifically, we have asked for . . . financial compensation, youth team development, equipment, travel expenses, hotel accommodations, meals, staffing, transportation, marketing, and publicity.”
Later that day, USA Hockey released its own statement, saying that they have, “a long-standing commitment to the support, advancement and growth of girls and women’s hockey and any claims to the contrary are unfounded.”
The statement also said they are implementing support to prepare the team for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, including “a six-month training camp, additional support stipends and incentives for medals that could result in each player receiving nearly $85,000 in cash over the Olympic training and performance period.”
Team USA said this statement was misleading, however, as it combines the compensation USA Hockey provides with what the players receive from the U.S. Olympic Committee as a reward for medaling, which the U.S. National Team has done in every Olympics since 1998. The statement does not mention compensation for continued training and competition during the non-Olympic period. It also fails to address funding for marketing, publicity, and youth development, for which USA Hockey spends more than $3.5 million to develop boys’ and men’s programs, but next to nothing for girls’ and women’s, according to the players.
The players stressed repeatedly that this is about more than financial compensation. In an interview with Puck Daddy, captain Meghan Duggan said, “The comparison [used] is the [US National Development Team] program playing sixty game a season, where our team, in a non-Olympic year, plays nine. We want to play more games. Then also just the marketing and PR and promotional aspects of our team . . . The women, from a marketing and PR and communications standpoint, are an afterthought, for lack of a better term.”
Over the course of the next week, the team and USA Hockey would meet several times, including a ten-hour conference on Monday, March 20th. Both sides described the meetings as “productive,” but on Thursday, March 23rd, USA Hockey released a statement that they would begin looking for replacement players, “in the event a resolution [could not] be reached.”
They began by reaching out to NCAA and NWHL players, but they underestimated how united the women are. One by one, they received rejections from players who then took to Twitter to express their solidarity with the USWNT with a coordinated statement: “Today I will do what others won’t so tomorrow I can do what others can’t. I said no to USAH & will not play in the 2017WC #BeBoldForChange.”
By Sunday, March 26th, espnW reported that USA Hockey was reaching out to Division III college players, rec league players, and high school players as potential replacements.
USA Hockey drew criticism from the NHL Players Association, who released a statement on Friday in support of the USWNT, warning USA Hockey that “the notion of seeking replacement players will only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.” The players associations for MLB, the NFL, and the NBA have also publicly supported the team.
Despite the setbacks, the team continues to remain optimistic. On Sunday night, they released another coordinated social media blast, with a statement that read:
The U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team players met tonight. We remain united in our resolve to bring positive change to the sport we love. We are hopeful that at tomorrow’s meeting of USA Hockey’s Board of Directors, the members will agree to the terms that those at the negotiating table in Philadelphia saw as a reasonable path forward. Those terms reflected 15 months of negotiations and significant compromise by parties on both sides. We are incredibly grateful for the support we have received from the hockey community, professional players associations across the sports world, fans, and beyond. Let’s seize this opportunity for the players and USA Hockey to make history together as we elevate the sport of hockey for everyone—girls, boys, women, and men. This agreement has the potential to be a game-changer for everyone.
Members of USA Hockey’s Board of Directors met on Monday. WSEN will keep you updated as this story continues to unfold.
— WomensHockeyLife (@LiveTheDreamWHL) March 24, 2017