Thursday, March 16, 2017

What is fair pay for representing your country in a world championship?

The answer is: it's complicated. Yesterday, players on the women's US hockey team threatened to boycott the upcoming World Championship because of lack of support and fair pay.

When this story started breaking yesterday, the first comment I ran across, from a man, was "spoiled bitches." It's not there now, probably because the site has guidelines for such things, and removed it (and it was obviously a troll), but it still angered me. That's the kind of attitude that women in sports have to deal with all the time, and it's less than fair, just like the women's hockey pay situation.

What are they actually paid? The truth is, they receive a pittance compared to the men's hockey team or even to other countries' women's hockey teams, and they've been getting screwed over like that for a long time.

“Team USA, at Hockey Canada Cup, 2009”
by Tyler Ingram is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Currently, team members receive $1,000 per month for the six months prior to the Olympic Games from USA Hockey. So, they get $6000 for four years. However, players are required to stay in shape and compete in other events (like the World Championship) during the interim. Top players receive some additional funding from USOC, and USOC pays out bonuses to players who medal in the Olympics, but still...a lot of these players rely on their parents for support to stay in the game. Players also have to relocate a year prior to the Olympics, to train and practice with their team, so if they were getting a paycheck from NWHL, for example, they have to give it up that year. The men's team doesn't have this requirement. They have fewer practices, and they don't have to give up a year in the NHL. It's not unreasonable that female players are seeking a better deal.

Canada is a bit more generous. Their team members receive between $900 and $1500 a month, even during non-Olympic years, and they get full-time support for nine months around the Olympic Games.

However, it's not just about money. These players are also asking for equitable support programs.

"We're asking for equitable support and marketing and visibility and promotion in programming but also in some financial support. It's 2017 and those things are not unreasonable." --Hilary Knight, Forward, Team USA

USA Hockey spends about $3.5 million on the men's side for development. The women's side gets bupkis.

This boycott was predictable, considering. The players are just standing up for what they believe. Negotiations for better terms have gone nowhere in the last 14 months, and players are using the only power that they have available to them. Training camp is next week, and players are saying that they won't attend.

Considering how devastating this will be for USA Hockey, its response has been lame.

“USA Hockey’s role is not to employ athletes and we will not do so.” --Jim Smith, President of USA Hockey
Ok, I get is, but the fact is, most players on the men's side are in the NHL, and make at least the league minimum of $575,000 per season. USA Hockey doesn't need to pay those players. They already get paid, big-time.

The options for female hockey players, when they leave college, are slim. If they are good enough, they can play for the national team. Or, they can play for the CWHL, which does not pay a salary, or the NWHL, which does, but it's not a living wage. Most women opt for a regular job.

Ironically, if USA Hockey doesn't participate in the World Championship, it will pay a fine far in excess of what it actually pays the women's hockey team. The fine is $15,000, which in this case is doubled, because they didn't notify the IIHF before Sept. 1. They will have to scramble to find players who are good enough, but not influenced by the USWNT, to put together another team in time for the show. Also, USA is the host country for the event. Awkward.

I think that if USA Hockey wants to continue the women's hockey program, they should do a better job of supporting them, and invest bigger in development. Otherwise, what's the point? I hope they can work things out in time for the worlds and for the future, but right now it looks grim.

The 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship kicks off in Plymouth, Michigan on March 31.

Tweeters to follow as this story develops:

Amanda Kessel @AmandaKessel8
Hilary Knight @Hilary_Knight
Meghan Duggan @mduggan10
Christine Brennan @cbrennansports
Sen. Brant Feldman @AGMSports

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