Team USA boycott of IIHF Worlds about “more than hockey”

The US Women’s National Team is taking a stand for equitable treatment from USA Hockey.

Earlier today, Team USA announced that they would be boycotting the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championships until further notice, or until “significant progress is made on the year-long negotiations with USA Hockey over fair wages and equitable support.”

This, for lack of better words, is a big freaking deal, and not just because Team USA is sitting out of the biggest international contest besides the Olympics.

Here’s what we know:

In the statement released by the national team players, the team cited year-long negotiations with USA hockey that haven’t gone anywhere. In an interview with Sportsnet shortly after the announcement, Team USA captain Meghan Duggan shed a little more light on the subject of the talks.

“For us, we’ve gone back and forth with USA Hockey the last 12-16 months. We decided after a long period that we wanted to get some lawyers and really start fighting for some equitable support and wages for women in our sport.”

The lawyers representing Team USA are the same lawyers who represented women in USA Soccer years ago, and are representing the team pro bono.

Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act

This boycott hinges a lot on the Stevens Amateur Sports Act, something that was cited in the player’s original statement and mentioned by Duggan.

“[The] Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act says they’re required to provide equitable support and wage to women within the program. Really we’re just asking them to abide by that law,” Duggan told Sportsnet.

If you’re so inclined, you can find the Ted Stevens Amateur Act here. Part of the purpose of the law is “to encourage and provide assistance to amateur athletic activities for women.”

In ESPNW’s article about the boycott, they mentioned that Team USA “are seeking a contract with USA Hockey that includes what the players feel is appropriate compensation.”

In an updated article from the Associated Press, the players clarified that they’re looking for a four-year contract that will extend beyond Olympic years. Currently, players only sign contracts for one year.

Team Canada negotiated their own contract after the 1998 Olympics, which resulted in the creation of the Women’s High Performance Advisory Committee.

USA Women’s Soccer signed a similar contract in 2000, which Julie Foudy cited in an article as what she thought was one of the key reasons for the explosive growth in women’s soccer.

A contract with USA Hockey would be enormously beneficial to the national team players, especially because they currently don’t have a players union for Team USA.

Where do we go from here?

The timing of the boycott is perfect for Team USA, which has a lot of leverage. This years World Championships are in Plymouth, Michigan, and the home team boycotting their own event puts USA Hockey in a tight bind. They have just two weeks to either meet the demands of Team USA (or at least move discussions forward) or accept that this years Worlds will have only seven teams.

That opens up a few more questions moving forward: if the team boycotts Worlds, will they report to training camp for centralization? There’s a lot of time between now and the Olympics, but is the team willing to not participate in Pyeongchang? As much as Team USA wants to win a medal on home soil, there’s a big difference between the World Championships and the Olympic Games.

But Duggan said in the Sportsnet interview that this isn’t just about medaling at Worlds.

“It’s about more than just money and it’s about more than just hockey, to be honest. Women deserve to be treated equitable to men and we think that’s important. We obviously are making sacrifices here and putting a world championship on the line in order to do so.”

Since they announced the boycott, Twitter has been flooded with messages of support from former US teams and even Canadian stars like Hayley Wickenheiser.

The national team players previously shortened their NWHL season so that they would be able to attend Worlds and not have to return to their pro teams before centralization. They may still be able to play at Worlds, if USA Hockey and the team can reach a deal before March 31. But they’re willing to sit out if they don’t.

Check back at The Ice Garden for more news as we get it.