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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MORE: Kessel becomes highest-paid player in NWHL

Team USA Opening Ceremony uniforms have heaters

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The U.S. Olympic team uniforms for the PyeongChang Opening Ceremony contain heating components that will last up to 11 hours.

Ice dancers Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani and bobsledder Aja Evans wore the uniforms on TODAY on Monday.

The heat technology will come in handy.

The PyeongChang Opening Ceremony on Feb. 9 (live streaming on NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app) will be in an outdoor stadium, likely in below-freezing temperatures.

From USA Today:

“The athletes can set the temperature (there are three settings) via their cellphones. The heat can last up to five hours on the high setting and 11 hours on the low setting, fully charged.”

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Jamaica misses Olympic men’s bobsled by one spot

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The only Jamaican bobsled team in PyeongChang will be its women’s bobsled team.

Jamaica missed qualifying a two-man bobsled team for the Olympics by one spot in rankings finalized last week.

Jamaica still had a chance to sneak into the 30-sled Olympic field if one of the qualified nations declined a spot, but that didn’t happen.

The International Bobsled and Skeleton Federation made it official Monday, publishing the Olympic fields for each event.

At least one Jamaican men’s sled competed in every Olympics from 1988 through 2002, then again in 2014.

Sochi driver Winston Watts retired, but a new team was formed in this Olympic cycle that included former Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals running back Michael Blair.

New driver Seldwyn Morgan competed on the lower-level North American Cup the last three seasons with a top finish of seventh.

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