This piece has been updated with additional news events at the bottom.
The members of the U.S. women’s national hockey team dropped a bombshell on Wednesday when they announced they will boycott the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship unless “significant progress has been made on the year-long negotiations with USA Hockey over fair wages and equitable support.”
The world championships is the biggest showcase for women’s hockey outside of the Winter Olympics, and the United States is hosting the event in Plymouth, Michigan beginning on March 31. The USWNT has won the gold medal in six of the last eight world championships.
The move mirrors the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s ongoing fight with USA Soccer to receive equal pay to that of their male counterparts. But going by reports, the women’s hockey team isn’t even asking for equal pay — just a contract that gives the women’s game, at both the grassroots and elite level, a fair shake.
Captain Meghan Duggan told reporters that the team is asking for a “living wage” and for USA Hockey to stop treating its U.S. women’s national team—and all girls and women’s hockey programs in the country—“like an afterthought.”
According to reporting by espnW, USA Hockey currently provides the USWNT players with $1,000 per month during the six-month Olympic residency period, and “virtually nothing” the rest of the four years, even though women’s hockey players are expected to train full-time and compete for the national team even outside of Olympic years.
Additionally, while USA Hockey spends about $3.5 million a year to support their elite boys hockey programs, they have absolutely zero “comparable development opportunities” for girls.
That is ridiculous, especially considering USA Hockey’s own website says it “provides the foundation for the sport of ice hockey in America; helps young people become leaders, even Olympic heroes; and connects the game at every level while promoting a lifelong love of the sport.”
Notably, last year, the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) — the first paid pro women’s hockey league in the United States — was launched. But the league is floundering in its second season, just as most young sports leagues do, and the maximum salary in the league is around $25,000. So it is far from a windfall for even the league’s best players.
Ultimately, the lack of money involved leaves even the best women’s hockey players in the world with an incredibly burdensome decision.
“[USWNT hockey] is a full-time job and to not get paid is a financial burden and stress on the players, obviously,” Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said. “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.”
This is not a new fight — women’s hockey has been trying to get more support from the federation for decades. But by making this announcement when they did — a mere six days before they are supposed to report to camp for the world championships, and the day before the NWHL playoffs begin, USWNT players are making sure that this situation finally gets the attention it deserves.
Now, it’s up to USA Hockey to respond, and prove that they believe that building a foundation for the future of women’s hockey in the United States is worth an investment.
UPDATE 1 (3/15): Five hours after the USWNT announced its plan to boycott, USA Hockey released a statement saying it “supports the equitable treatment of our female athletes, a commitment going back decades. It also said that it had “proactively increased our level of direct support to the Women’s National Team,” providing them with a possibility to earn as much as $85,000 — bonuses for medals included — during an Olympic period.
However, a representative for the players said the statement is “misleading,” as reported by Nick Zaccardi of NBC Sports.
“It suggests that USA Hockey is prepared to pay the players $85,000 during the Olympic year,” a statement read. “That is simply not true, and no such offer was ever extended. In its public statement, USA Hockey has coupled their contributions with payments made by the U.S. Olympic Committee, which pays gold medal-winning athletes more than $60,000. Further, it covers only the Olympic period and does not offer anything for each of the other three years during which a World Championship is played. Lastly, it does nothing to address the marketing and training support that is not on par with what it provides to the mens’ and boys’ teams.”
You can read the full statement from USA Hockey below.
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) March 15, 2017
UPDATE 2 (3/16): On Thursday morning, USA Today reported that USA Hockey imposed a 5:00 p.m. ET deadline for the USWNT players to declare whether they would indeed follow through on their boycott.
ThinkProgress spoke with Jocelyne Lamoureux, a veteran of the USWNT, on Thursday afternoon. She said that as of 2:30 ET on Thursday, USA Hockey had not even reached out to the team’s lawyers once since the boycott was announced.
“USA Hockey has not reached out to our lawyers as of right now,” Lamoureux said. “We’re ready and willing and able and want to have a conversation. We want to talk and we want to work this out.
“We put this on notice. Enough is enough. We wanted them to see that we are serious. But their first response to us was a press release issued six hours later, and to have no conversations yet going into the second day — it’s like, do you take us seriously? Do you even care? It would appear that they do not.”
USA Hockey said it was considering using replacement players in the world championships if the players do not capitulate before 5:00 p.m. ET, but Lamoureux said that college players and the Under-18 women’s team are all on board with the boycott, so it is unclear where replacement players would come from.