Women's hockey players score big victory off-ice

The deal between the women's team and Hockey USA was momentous, and it was also a reminder of an growing appreciation of women's sport around the world.

Jonas Ekstromer/Pressens Bild/AP/File
US team members (from l.), Angela Ruggiero, Cammi Granato, and Jenny Potter hold the trophy after winning the 2005 Women's World Ice Hockey Championship in the Cloetta Center in Linkoping, Sweden. Ms. Granato's biggest victory in hockey came 12 years after she retired. When USA Hockey and the women's national team agreed to a contract that ended a wage dispute, Granato couldn't put her happiness into words.

Women’s hockey scored a major off-ice goal earlier this week, and right before the buzzer.

The buzzer, in this case, was the start of the world championship, which the reigning champions threatened to boycott if USA Hockey refused to grant them what they consider a reasonable wage agreement that would align their equipment, travel, and benefits arrangements more closely with that of the men’s team.

It worked. Just three days before the March 31 deadline, both parties agreed to terms the exact details of which were undisclosed. The team appears happy as it has agreed to take to the ice this Friday night to begin its title defense against rival Canada.

"Our sport is the big winner today," United States captain Meghan Duggan said in a statement following the decision on Tuesday. "We stood up for what we thought was right and USA Hockey's leadership listened. In the end, both sides came together."

If the 11th-hour deal had not been struck, USA Hockey faced the embarrassing possibility of the home team not participating or having to send out its B team.

The four-year agreement, which includes payment outside of the six-month Olympic period, up to $129,000 if they win Olympic gold, and more development of the game for women, is a reminder of the building momentum for, and appreciation of, women’s sport across the nation and the world.

In the early 2000s, the US women’s soccer team struck a similar deal that changed the trajectory of the sport for women in the country, which now boasts a team that won the last FIFA Women's World Cup and enjoys a higher profile and more success than the men’s team.

Tennis star Serena Williams drew attention to the issue of gender parity in sports last year in a letter published in Porter Magazine’s “Incredible Women of 2016” issue, where she pointed out that female athletes are often seen as women first, which is to the detriment of their professional progress.

The issue pervades, not just professional sports, but the world of non-profit and youth athletics as well, according to Mary Banker, the associate director of Expansion and Development at Chicago-based non-profit Girls in the Game.

"We don’t just show up with soccer balls," Ms. Banker told The Christian Science Monitor in December. "We’re changing the conversation and the culture. This is so much bigger than Girls in the Game. We’re contributing to something bigger, and if we all make these steps, we will certainly get there someday."

And in Australia, this year marked the inaugural season of the Australian Football League Women’s competition, whose opening round drew remarkable crowds for a burgeoning league, and which received full live television coverage.

Back on the ice, the news of the new deal with USA Hockey will be broadly welcomed across the sporting and political worlds after the women’s team's bid garnered the support of all four major American sports unions and 16 US senators.

USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean says the deal was all about laying a solid foundation for the future of the women's game.

"It was critical to go through this process and to get this done, and I'm pretty sure that the women are very, very satisfied with where we ended up and it puts us in a great place to all move forward in a great way," Mr. Ogrean told the Associated Press by phone on Tuesday night.

The team used to make around $1,000 a month over the half-year Olympic period, compared with the $6,000 that male players earn around the Olympics, in addition to USA Hockey's $3.5 million in annual spending on the men's national team development program. This new contract pays women players roughly $3,000 a month. Annual compensation could surpass $70,000 when added to contributions from the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), according to AP.

"There was compromises on both sides, but the contract in its entirety, it's going to change the lives of the current players that are on the team right now (and also) the next generation," star forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson told AP by phone. "It's going to be a turning point for women's hockey in the US (and) I feel like a turning point for women's hockey in the world."

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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