Monday, December 6, 2010

A Cold Shoulder for Women’s Hockey by Gregory Allen


The World Hockey Summit met in August to discuss the future, foundation, and prominent  aspects of the sport of ice hockey. On the agenda, the looming expulsion of women’s hockey from the Olympics. Committee president Jacques Rogge decided to place women’s hockey on notice following several lopsided scores in the most recent Olympic Games, held in Vancouver, Canada.
                                                                                           
Also an important topic at the summit, the dwindling participation in youth hockey across North America. Misconceptions of violent occurrences, and notions equipment required is too expensive to play, have kept most children from continuing activities in the sport into their teen years. Statistics revealed at the summit imply that nearly half of all children participating in youth hockey quit before the age of ten. Despite this evidence that the foundation of the sport is in increasing jeopardy, Rogge and others have renewed their push to remove women from participating in ice hockey.

In Vancouver, 20 teams met, both men’s division and women’s, to compete in the ice hockey tournament. Canada won gold over the U.S. in both finals matches. Numerous upsets and highlight reel plays dominated the competition and drew immense ratings and ticket sales. Prominent amongst the men’s tournament was the ousting of Russia, predicted by many to challenge for top honors. Among the Russian players was Ilya Kovalchuk, who recently signed a 15-year deal with the New Jersey Devils of the NHL, worth approximately $100 million. Kovalchuk, a noted goal scorer, failed to record more than a single goal, and mirrored much of the disappointment shown by others. The highlights displayed  by the women’s tournament frequently overwhelmed that of the performances found in the men’s category, most notable of which were Sidney Crosby’s blooper over time goal against the United States, and Miikka Kipprusoff’s allowance of four goals in just about as many minutes to the US team. Members of Canada’s women’s team set new records in goals scored in a game and career goals by a player, Haley Wickenheiser. The U.S. and Canadian women’s teams supplied a slew of impressive tallies, such as Jocelyn Lamoreux’s “between the legs” score against China.

However, the U.S. and Canadian women’s teams have appeared in all finals matches since being allowed into the Winter Olympics, in Nagano, 1998. Rogge’s argument, and that of the IIHF, seems misguided by suggesting the lopsided scores are a genuine catalyst for the discrimination, such as Canada’s dispelling of Slovakia 18-0, beating out Sweden 13-2, and the US’s ousting of China 12-1. When Men’s Ice Hockey first entered the Olympics in 1920, Canada defeated Czechoslovakia 15-0, and Sweden 12-1, two countries now considered elites for supplying the hockey world with some of its most recognizable talent, such as Jaromir Jagr, Dominik Hasek, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Peter Forsberg. But these facts appear forgotten by the committee and those who continue to push for isolating female athletes from the Winter Games. It would seem impossibly offensive to state the same development of talent will not occur in the Women’s category given the same time to grow.

With the foundation crumbling, and youth pursuing interests in other sports, it appears imperative that the hockey world allow for women’s teams to develop, as theirs once did, if the sport is to reverse the trend and thrive. With the Olympics being the only widely televised Women’s event in ice hockey, and little professional leagues being found outside of Canada, more consideration must be made, instead of basing this rejection on contradictory stats shared also by the men’s divisions. Removing female motivation, such as Olympic participation, would prove only detrimental to the sport, as the only category of growth found is in Women’s North American Hockey, which has grown over 400% in the last decade alone. And the this consideration should come soon, as popular female icons in the sport, such as Angela Ruggiero and Hayley Wickenheiser, depart and take the game with them.

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