A tentative deal may have been reached in the ongoing dispute between the U.S. women’s national hockey team and USA Hockey, USA Today reports. If the players approve the deal, it could bring an end to their boycott of the rapidly approaching IIHF Women’s World Championships. The U.S. team has its first match scheduled for March 31 against Canada.
The boycott stretches back to March 15, when players from the national team announced their intention to skip the World Championships after negotiations over "fair wages and equitable support" stalled. According to NPR, players were asking USA Hockey for a living wage. In the past, players have received “$1,000 a month for six months every Olympic cycle, and "virtually nothing" for the other 3.5 years. That works out to $1,500 a year.” Considering the amount of training that goes into being an Olympic athlete, the players understandably felt that USA Hockey was not doing enough. Many players have been forced to take on second and third jobs, particularly since the NWHL, the only professional women’s hockey league in North America to actually pay its players, was forced to slash salaries going into its second season. As team captain Meghan Duggan puts it, "It's 365 days a year to be an Olympic athlete. It's our life, our everything.” On top of that, the U.S. women’s team has medaled in all five Olympics in which women’s hockey was played and won the world championships seven times since 2000. In contrast, the men’s national team has won two Olympic and two World Championship silvers in the same timeframe.
(Speaking of the men’s team, they receive the same compensation as the women in terms of money. However, they also tend to get better hotel and travel accommodations. Also, most of them play in the NHL and are millionaires.)
According to players and their lawyers, the boycott is about more than just money. They’ve also pointed out that USA Hockey’s youth programs are evidence of systemic gender inequality. "At the younger levels, USA Hockey spends approximately $3.5 million annually to support a schedule of more than 60 games a season for boys participating in its National Team Development Program,” the team’s lawyers said in a statement. “There are no comparable development opportunities for girls, and the Women's National Team plays only nine games in non-Olympic years. Over the course of its yearlong negotiations, the players have made repeated requests of USA Hockey for increased playing opportunities and financial support consistent with the boys' teams."
— Hilary Knight (@Hilary_Knight) March 15, 2017
The boycott has received resounding support on social media and from other athletes, including the U.S. women’s soccer team and the NFL and Major League Baseball players’ associations. According to the Huffington Post, there were even reports that members of the men’s national hockey team were considering boycotting their own world championships in solidarity. And on Monday, 16 Democratic senators wrote a letter to USA Hockey Executive Director Dave Ogrean, stating that “these elite athletes indeed deserve fairness and respect, and we hope you will be a leader on this issue as women continue to push for equality in athletics.”
After the boycott began, USA Hockey announced plans to field an alternate team. However, every player they reached out to turned them down in solidarity. USA Today reports that the organization was considering contacting players from Under-16 and adult leagues, but should this deal go through, that may not be necessary. Either way, it would be a major embarrassment if the United States, as the reigning national champions, was unable to pull together any sort of team. But the players are willing to play, just as long as they get a fair deal. As forward Monique Lamoureux told the Huffington Post, players “will show up the day before the game if we have to.”