US women's hockey threaten world boycott as Olympics loom

Team USA's captain Meghan Duggan #10 handles the puck in her game against Canada during the first period of their National Women's Team Series December 12, 2013 in Calgary, Alberta

Members of the reigning world champion US women's ice hockey team on Wednesday said they will not play in the World Championships in a dispute over support from USA Hockey.

Just 11 months before the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the Americans demanded "significant progress" in what have been year-long talks with the national federation over wages and other support before taking home ice for the worlds, set to open March 31 at Plymouth, Michigan.

"We're 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," US captain Meghan Duggan said. "We have represented our country with dignity and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect."

The move echoes that of the US 2015 Women's World Cup championship football team, which remains in talks with US Soccer on a new contract after having raised the prospect of not playing in last year's Rio Olympics.

US women's hockey players have won the past three world titles, and six of the last seven, but never won a world crown in three tries on home ice, losing to Canada each time, most recently in 2012. The North American rivals are the only nations to reach a women's world ice hockey final.

While the Americans won the first Olympic women's hockey gold at Nagano, Japan, in 1998, the Canadians have won the four titles since then.

Players cite the 1978 Amateur Sports Act in arguing for equitable treatment in financial compensation, youth team development, equipment, meals, travel expenses, hotel accommodations, staffing, transportation, marketing and publicity.

"The goals of our requests are to receive fair treatment from USA Hockey," the team said in a statement. "In making these requests, we are simply asking USA Hockey to comply with the law."

Players say USA Hockey provides players $1,000 a month for six months during the Olympic period and almost nothing the remainder of the time despite expectations of full-time training and competition, adding that players have two or three jobs and rely on family for financial support.

"USA Hockey's role is not to employ athletes and we will not do so," USA Hockey president Jim Smith said. "USA Hockey will continue to provide world-leading support for our athletes."

- 'We still have to fight' -

But leading the world and matching the spending on men's hockey support is a different matter. Women contend USA Hockey spends about $3.5 million every year on its boys national development program without providing similar opportunities for girls.

"It's hard to believe that, in 2017, we still have to fight so hard for basic equitable support," said assistant captain Monique Lamoureux-Morando. "When I see girls at rinks around the country who are dedicated to pursuing big dreams and look to us to lead by example, it's well overdue for us to speak up about unfair treatment, even if it means sacrificing an opportunity to represent our country."

"We owe the next generation more than that," she added. "We owe it to ourselves to stand up for what is right."

In a statement, USA Hockey said that while it is disappointed by the decision to boycott the worlds, it "remains committed to continuing dialogue and will field a competitive team."

USA Hockey says "support stipends and incentives for medals" could bring each player almost $85,000 in cash over the Olympic "training and performance period" in addition to housing, meal and travel money plus medical and disability insurance, without giving amounts.

"We acknowledge the players' concerns and have proactively increased our level of direct support to the women's national team as we prepare for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said.

"We have communicated that increased level of support to the players' representatives and look forward to continuing our discussions."