The United States Women's National Hockey Team says it will sit out the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in Michigan later this month, unless what the players deem as satisfactory progress is made in negotiations with USA Hockey, the sport's governing body, to secure fair wages and financial support for the team and the women's program. The American women have taken part in the event since it began in 1990 and have beaten Canada to win the last two titles in a row.
On Wednesday, the hashtag #BeBoldForChange took took social media by storm, garnering support for Team USA from both male and female athletes and fans.
The players are represented in negotiations by the law firm Ballard Spahr, which also aided the U.S. women's soccer team in its effort to secure pay equal to that of the U.S. men's soccer team. Team USA forward Hilary Knight, one of five designated spokeswomen for the team, shared her thoughts with Sports on Earth.
How did you, as a team, reach the decision to boycott the World Championships?
Inequitable treatment led us down this road. People say, "You guys aren't the NHL." Well, we're not asking for anything the NHL has. We simply want USA Hockey to support our development program in the same way they support the men's program. We are actually more successful than the men in terms of championships, but in reality, we are lucky to have medaled as many times as we have and brought home as many World Championship titles as we have, given that we don't get the proper support. We have been in negotiations with USA Hockey for over a year now to fix this situation, and recently the negotiations trailed off. I don't think they saw us seriously as a united front asking for equitable support, and now we're holding out for our home-based World Championships.
How big of a sacrifice is this for you and your team?
It is a huge sacrifice, especially since one of the things we are asking for is more programming, which is more games. We only play nine games to begin with, so to take the World Championships off of our plates when we've been training for them for an entire year is tough. But we're so passionate about what we're fighting for and we can see the bigger picture. We know how this will affect our sport and inspire change. This is 2017, and this just isn't right. These shouldn't be issues. They shouldn't be daily concerns we have. We need more support and it's unacceptable that we aren't getting more support.
Why now, specifically?
What brought it to a head was USA Hockey not responding to our proposal. It's very tough to negotiate with someone who doesn't take you seriously, and with someone who isn't interested in finding a solution that works for both parties. So unless significant changes are made, we are not going to play in the World Championships. It's a huge bummer for us, and also for our fans and our friends and families who have booked hotels and flights and have invested all their time. But we need to have significant strides made in the negotiation for our player pool to feel comfortable playing for them.
What type of proposal from Team USA would bring the women's team back to the World Championships?
I think if they made some strides in programming, as in, securing more games for us to play, or if they introduced a more suitable marketing or visibility plan for our team, we would come back to the table. Right now, we play only nine games per year, compared to 60 for the men's team. And our team travels to play and people don't even know we're there. There is no marketing done, so people don't know that Team USA is playing Team Canada in a major American city at the biggest tournament of the year.
USA Hockey says they have "communicated an increased level of support" to the players on the women's team. What was lacking in their offer?
The statement they issued was inaccurate. They say they give us $85,000 per player, but really, it is $6,000 over a six-month period during the Olympic year, and less than $20,000 over the four-year period in between. If they want to play the numbers game, it won't go well for them because of how they haven't supported us in the past.
What other issues are you facing as a team?
USA Hockey expects us to be training year-round. It's an everyday thing, but they don't give us anything to help us out in that department. You can't have a regular job if you're training that seriously. I am very lucky personally. I have great partners in companies that I'm with and it supplements my income and I don't have to work, but a lot of the players don't have that luxury and they struggle financially.
What kind of support have you seen from other women on other national teams, and from people in general?
It's been outstanding. I knew we were going to make a splash on social media but it's been huge to see other iconic female figures reach out or retweet or weigh in on what's going on. With where we are right now with our country, it's an exciting time to be a female, and to be able to stand up with such an amazing group of women and unanimously have this passion to make change is a pretty cool thing to be a part of.
What is the ultimate goal of the boycott?
The goal is to keep the momentum going, keep spreading the word, keep talking to people. I'm hoping we can start some change here and get some stuff done. Obviously, we want to play, but it's a worthy sacrifice if we don't.