U.S. women’s hockey stars plan to boycott world championship

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U.S. women’s hockey stars plan to boycott the world championship tournament that starts in two weeks over wages and support.

A social-media statement read that team members will not play at worlds in Plymouth, Mich., “unless significant progress has been made on the year-long negotiations with USA Hockey over fair wages and equitable support.”

USA Hockey responded five hours later by noting its previously planned increased “level of direct support” to the women’s national team, that could result in up to $85,000 per player over the Olympic period, and saying it looked forward to continued discussions. It plans to field a team for worlds.

The players’ representatives called USA Hockey’s response “misleading.”

“It suggests that USA Hockey is prepared to pay the players $85,000 during the Olympic year,” a statement read. “That is simply not true, and no such offer was ever extended. In its public statement, USA Hockey has coupled their contributions with payments made by the U.S. Olympic Committee, which pays gold medal-winning athletes more than $60,000. Further, it covers only the Olympic period and does not offer anything for each of the other three years during which a World Championship is played. Lastly, it does nothing to address the marketing and training support that is not on par with what it provides to the mens’ and boys’ teams.”

The world championship tournament runs from March 31-April 7. The U.S. team is due to have a pre-worlds camp starting next Wednesday in Traverse City, Mich., but players are not planning to attend without meaningful progress.

“We are asking for a living wage and for USA Hockey to fully support its programs for women and girls and stop treating us like an afterthought,” U.S. captain Meghan Duggan said in a press release from the players’ law firm. “We have represented our country with dignity and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect.”

USA Hockey president Jim Smith said in a press release that it is not the organization’s job to employ athletes.

“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,” USA Hockey said.

Olympic medalists including Hilary KnightAmanda Kessel and Duggan were among the players on the already-named worlds team to post the statement on their social-media accounts.

Knight and Duggan both said Wednesday that the entire national-team player pool is on board with sitting out. Duggan said the under-18 team is, too. They said players had not considered sitting out previous tournaments since hiring lawyers in 2015, hoping that negotiations would net significant change. Until now.

Knight said if it was an Olympic year rather than a worlds year, the players would sit out the Olympics unless significant progress is made. The U.S. Olympic Committee pays bonuses to Olympic medalists, including $37,500 to gold medalists and $22,500 to silver medalists.

“I think that speaks volumes, really, to the unity of our group, but also how passionate we are about standing up for equitable support,” Knight said.

Duggan wasn’t sure if players would sit out the Olympics under the current conditions.

“I mean it’s difficult to say,” Duggan said. “Obviously, that’s a bridge you cross if you get there. We’re prepared to fight for what’s right.”

Knight said she didn’t know U.S. coach Robb Stauber‘s stance. Stauber replaced Ken Klee as the U.S. coach starting with games in December.

The players’ release noted a lack of pay during non-Olympic years.

“The women seek a contract with USA Hockey that includes appropriate compensation,” the release said. “Nearly all of the players’ compensation outside of the Olympic period comes from the U.S. Olympic Committee, and for that, the players are thankful. In the past, USA Hockey has provided the players with only $1,000 per month during the six-month Olympic residency period. During the remainder of the four-year period, USA Hockey pays virtually nothing, despite its expectation that in each of the non-Olympic years, the players train full time and compete throughout the year, including in the World Championships. Approximately half of the players on the Women’s National Team hold second or third jobs, and many others rely on financial support from family members.”

USA Hockey detailed its already planned support leading up to the 2018 Olympics, including “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. The sum is in addition to a housing allowance, travel allowances, meal expenses, medical and disability insurance and the infrastructure that includes elite-level support staff to train and prepare the players.”

The U.S. women’s hockey team has won three straight world titles. In Plymouth, it could go for its first-ever streak of four world titles and its first world title on home ice.

The U.S. took gold in women’s hockey’s debut at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, then silver in 2002, bronze in 2006 and silver in 2010 and 2014.

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USA Hockey to start reaching out to potential replacement players

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USA Hockey will begin reaching out to “alternate players” to determine their interest in playing for the U.S. at the women’s world championship next week amid a potential boycott by its national team.

The contact is taking place in the event a resolution cannot be reached between USA Hockey and the women’s national team in a wage dispute.

“It’s important for everyone to understand clearly that our objective is to have the players we named as the U.S. women’s national team be the ones that compete in the world championship,” said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, in a statement. “Productive conversations have taken place this week and are ongoing in our collective efforts to reach a resolution.”

The alternate players are in the professional NWHL and college, according to USA Today, a report that USA Hockey would not confirm.

U.S. captain Meghan Duggan has said every player in the U.S. national team player pool, plus under-18 national team players, committed to not playing at worlds unless the wage dispute is resolved.

The world championship tournament starts March 31 in Plymouth, Mich.

As of Thursday evening, no resolution has come between USA Hockey and its women’s national team. They met formally on Monday for more than 10 hours, with both sides calling it productive.

Neither side has said when its next scheduled meeting will take place.

On Tuesday, USA Hockey said it postponed a pre-worlds camp that was to run through next Tuesday in Traverse City, Mich., and canceled a scheduled Friday exhibition against Finland.

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NHL asked for decision on Olympics by end of April

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International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel tells The Associated Press he needs to know by the end of April whether NHL players will be cleared to play in the South Korea Olympics next year.

NHL team owners have made it clear they don’t want to stop their season again for the Winter Games and put their stars at risk of injury. The reluctance has come up before and yet the NHL has participated in the Olympics since 1998. This time, however, there seems to be an impasse.

The head of the NHL Players Association, Donald Fehr, says the players want to participate and hopes the league will take advantage of the chance to market the game in Asia.

However, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly says without “material change to the current status quo, NHL players will not be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics.”

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