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USA women’s national hockey team to boycott 2017 World Championship over fair wages

The host country’s players claim they haven’t received equitable support.

USA v Canada Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Update 5:00 p.m.:

The players have responded to USA Hockey’s response, citing that the $85,000 cash bonus offer “was never extended”. The rebuttal also mentions no response to their complaints of “marketing and training support that is not on par with” what USA Hockey gives to the men and boy’s clubs.

Original story:

When the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship kicks off in Plymouth, Mich. on March 31, the host country will not be there.

Multiple United States women’s national team players announced the team’s intention to boycott the event on Wednesday unless “significant progress” is made on negotiations with USA Hockey on fair wages and other support issues.

Stars like Hilary Knight and Amanda Kessel posted the team’s statement simultaneously on Twitter on Wednesday morning.

In a statement, USA Hockey said they “acknowledge the players’ concerns and have proactively increased our level of direct support” to the team ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

That support, according to USA Hockey, includes (emphasis ours), “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.”

That $85,000 appears to be a ceiling; for example, via bonuses should the team win a medal. Either way, $85,000 every four years is not much.

“We have communicated that increased level of support to the players’ representatives and look forward to continuing our discussions,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey.

The organization also indicated it is prepared to field an entirely new team while the current players sit out the World Championships.

While USA Hockey is disappointed that players from the Women’s National Team program have said today they do not intend to participate in the upcoming IIHF Women’s World Championship unless their financial demands are met, USA Hockey remains committed to continuing dialogue and will field a competitive team for the upcoming 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Plymouth, Michigan.

“In our role as the national governing body, USA Hockey trains and selects teams for international competition,” said Jim Smith, president of USA Hockey. “USA Hockey’s role is not to employ athletes and we will not do so. USA Hockey will continue to provide world-leading support for our athletes.”

But the players’ concerns go beyond pay, according to their attorney Dee Spagnulo, who laid them out for The Ice Garden.

There are penalties for withdrawing from IIHF events. According to the bylaws, host countries are fined $100,000 for withdrawing from the men’s World Championships after Sep. 1 of the preceding year. USA Hockey would be fined $15,000 for this boycott of the women’s event.

So this is the women’s team’s bargaining chip: pay us fair wages and support or pay the IIHF a boatload of money in fines.

The women’s team cites the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act, which mandates that national sports bodies "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 team claims unequal support from USA Hockey compared to the men’s side. From ESPNW’s story:

According to the players, 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. There are no comparable development opportunities for girls.

In essence, the women’s team has pushed for pay equality for over 17 years. In a defense piece for ESPNW on Wednesday, former United States women’s national soccer team star Julie Foudy offered this anecdote:

In 2000, when the hockey players told USA Hockey that they had hired the lawyers who represented the U.S. soccer players, USA Hockey locked out the players and prevented them from training unless they told the lawyers to stand down. Many players and hockey insiders also contend that USA Hockey and head coach Ben Smith cut Granato from the team in 2005 for continuing to question their support. They threatened to do the same to other players who spoke up about the inequity in USA Hockey's funding, and sadly, it worked.

Here’s the full transcript of the players’ statement:

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 yearl-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 ares 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 the 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.