USA Hockey struck an 11th-hour deal Tuesday night with boycotting players from its national women’s hockey team that will allow the United States to compete in the world championships.
The women’s team had vowed to boycott the tournament if USA Hockey wouldn’t address the players’ concerns over what they felt was inadequate compensation and support. The year’s biggest event — a preview of what might be in store at next year’s Winter Olympics — begins Friday in Plymouth, Mich.
“Today reflects everyone coming together and compromising in order to reach a resolution for the betterment of the sport,” Jim Smith, president of USA Hockey, said in the statement. “We’ll now move forward together knowing we’ll look back on this day as one of the most positive in the history of USA Hockey.”
The new deal is significantly more lucrative for the players, according to a person familiar with agreement. Previously, USA Hockey didn’t pay the women at all in non-Olympic years and gave each a total of $6,000 in the year leading up to a Winter Games.
Under the new deal, players could stand to earn in the neighborhood of $70,000 a year with the possibility of even more from performance bonuses, according to the source familiar with the contract. In addition to a $2,000 monthly training stipend from the U.S. Olympic Committee, the national team will split an annual pool paid by USA Hockey of at least $850,000 this year and $950,000 in each of the final three years of the contract. USA Hockey also agreed to pay players a $20,000 bonus for winning gold at next year’s PyeongChang Olympics, or $15,000 for silver.
With the clock ticking before Friday’s tournament opener, the organization’s executive board held an emergency meeting Monday to consider its options. The two sides spent most of Tuesday ironing out contract specifics before the players voted Tuesday evening on USA Hockey’s proposed deal.
With an agreement in place, the players are expected to travel to Michigan on Wednesday and practice Thursday afternoon, barely 24 hours before taking the ice for their opening-round game Friday night against Canada.
“Our sport is the big winner today,” team captain Meghan Duggan said in a statement. “We stood up for what we thought was right and USA Hockey’s leadership listened. In the end, both sides came together.”
The quarrel focused a bright spotlight on USA Hockey from all corners of the sports world, bringing attention to the disparity in resources afforded to the men’s and women’s national teams. Twenty U.S. senators weighed in Monday with a letter to Dave Ogrean, the executive director of USA Hockey, urging the organization to resolve the dispute.
Before Tuesday’s agreement, USA Hockey didn’t pay the women in non-Olympic years. The players had demanded higher wages and urged USA Hockey to make a bigger investment in its developmental programs targeting young girls.
As a part of the new deal, USA Hockey agreed to form an advisory group that will work “to advance girls’ and women’s hockey in all areas, including programming, marketing, promotion and fundraising,” according to a statement from the organization.
USA Hockey is based in Colorado Springs and is responsible for selecting and training teams for international competition. The organization had been exploring the possibility of fielding a team of replacement players, and executives had been scrambling in recent days for a solution.
“USA Hockey’s role is not to employ athletes and we will not do so,” Smith said last week in a statement. “USA Hockey will continue to provide world-leading support for our athletes.”
The men’s team similarly isn’t paid in non-Olympic years, but that squad is typically composed of well-compensated NHL players. The women’s players don’t have the same deep-pocketed sources of revenue.
This month’s standoff marked the second high-profile pay dispute between elite female athletes and an Olympic governing body in the past year. The women’s national soccer team filed a federal complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year alleging wage discrimination by U.S. Soccer.
The women’s hockey team lacked both the funds and the profile enjoyed by their soccer counterparts, despite a history of success. The Americans have reached the podium at each of the five Olympics at which women’s hockey was contested. The United States won the silver medal at the past two Winter Games and is the only nation besides Canada to win Olympic gold.
The United States has competed in every world championship tournament since the first in 1990 and has bested Canada in the gold medal game at both world championships since the Sochi Olympics.
With its tournament opener slated for Friday, the American squad missed its entire scheduled training camp. Other teams, meanwhile, participated in their regular practices to prepare for the world championships. The Canadian squad, the four-time Olympic champs, wrapped up practices on Monday and were headed to Michigan, not certain whether they’d even have a first-round opponent.
Monday’s letter from Senate Democrats to USA Hockey noted that members of the women’s national team “deserve fairness and respect.”
“We are disturbed by reports from the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team suggesting that USA Hockey is not providing ‘equitable support’ to female athletes,” the senators wrote.
The women’s players had also been buoyed by messages of support from across the sports world in recent days. Some have suggested the men’s team would similarly boycott its world championships, which is scheduled for May, in solidarity. Last week all four major sports unions issued statements of support, and a wide range of athletes, such as soccer star Abby Wambach and basketball players Sue Bird and Brittney Griner, have voiced their support on social media.
In their letter Monday, the senators noted that the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act requires USA Hockey to “be responsible to the people and amateur sports organizations it represents.”
“These elite athletes indeed deserve fairness and respect, and we hope you will be a leader on this issue as women continue to push for equality in athletics,” the senators wrote.