U.S. women’s hockey team threat­ens walk­out over lack of sup­port, wages.

Cit­ing lack of sup­port from gov­ern­ing body, champs re­fus­ing to play

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY WILL HOB­SON will.hob­son@wash­post.com

Monique Lamoureux-Mo­rando started notic­ing the slights not long af­ter she earned her spot on USA Hockey’s women’s na­tional team in 2009.

While the teenagers and young men on USA Hockey’s world ju­nior (un­der-20) men’s team had a seem­ingly end­less sup­ply of sticks, the 27-year-old Lamoureux-Mo­rando said, she and her team­mates some­times had to buy their own. While the goalie on the ju­nior men’s team al­ways played in top-of-the-line pads and a freshly painted hel­met, the women’s goalie needed to use her old pads from col­lege for months, her alma mater’s brown and white clash­ing with the red, white and blue jer­seys for Team USA.

And in what Lamoureux-Mo­rando and her team­mates have de­scribed as a last straw of sorts, when USA Hockey held an of­fi­cial jer­sey un­veil­ing in the runup to the Sochi Olympics in 2014, the Olympic sports or­ga­ni­za­tion didn’t in­vite the women’s team, and stitch­ing on the jer­seys that cel­e­brated all of Team USA’s gold medals didn’t men­tion the 1998 gold won by the women’s team in Nagano.

“We don’t be­lieve it was done ma­li­ciously,” Lamoureux-Mo­rando, a two-time Olympic sil­ver medal­ist, said in a phone in­ter­view. “We’re just an af­ter­thought.”

This week, Lamoureux-Mo­rando and her team­mates an­nounced what amounted to a threat to strike. The U.S. women’s na­tional team is re­fus­ing to play in the up­com­ing women’s ice hockey world cham­pi­onships — which USA Hockey is host­ing later this month in Ply­mouth, Mich. — un­less the Olympic gov­ern­ing body agrees to pay the play­ers what they con­sider fair wages and of­fer more year-round sup­port. USA Hockey doesn’t pay the women at all in non-Olympic years and in the year be­fore an Olympics pays them $6,000 each.

USA Hockey Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Dave Ogrean — who earned $440,000 in 2015, ac­cord­ing to USA Hockey’s most re­cent 990 fil­ing with the IRS — did not re­spond to in­ter­view re­quests. Head­quar­tered in Colorado Springs, USA Hockey se­lects and trains teams for in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion and cer­ti­fies coaches and of­fi­cials across the coun­try. The or­ga­ni­za­tion had $42 mil­lion in an­nual in­come in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the 990, much of it gen­er­ated through mem­ber­ship fees.

“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,” Ogrean said in a state­ment USA Hockey re­leased this week. “We have com­mu­ni­cated that in­creased level of sup­port to the play­ers’ rep­re­sen­ta­tives and look for­ward to con­tin­u­ing our dis­cus­sions.”

In the state­ment, USA Hockey claimed it is in­creas­ing its sup­port for the up­com­ing Olympics in South Korea to of­fer women’s play­ers up to $85,000. The lawyer for the women’s team, John Langel, said this claim is mis­lead­ing be­cause $62,500 of that fig­ure would come from the U.S. Olympic Com­mit­tee and in­cludes a $37,500 gold medal bonus that is not guar­an­teed.

“And that of­fer doesn’t dis­cuss the other three [non-Olympic] years, when they’ve of­fered us zero,” said Langel, an at­tor­ney with Bal­lard Spahr law firm in Philadel­phia.

This is the sec­ond pay dis­pute be­tween a women’s na­tional team and an Olympic gov­ern­ing body in the past year; the women’s na­tional soc­cer team filed a com­plaint with the fed­eral Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion last year al­leg­ing wage dis­crim­i­na­tion by U.S. Soc­cer. This dis­pute is slightly dif­fer­ent, how­ever.

Soc­cer of­fers lu­cra­tive in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions in nonO­lympic years, and U.S. Soc­cer for years has paid both its men’s and women’s na­tional team mem­bers (al­beit pay­ing the men more). In­ter­na­tional hockey isn’t as prof­itable as soc­cer, and USA Hockey hasn’t tra­di­tion­ally paid play­ers on ei­ther of its na­tional teams in non-Olympic years. For the past five Olympics, the men’s team has been largely filled with well-paid pro­fes­sion­als from the NHL.

“In our role as the na­tional gov­ern­ing body, USA Hockey trains and se­lects teams for in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion,” USA Hockey Pres­i­dent Jim Smith said in a state­ment. “USA Hockey’s role is not to em­ploy ath­letes and we will not do so. USA Hockey will con­tinue to pro­vide world-lead­ing sup­port for our ath­letes.”

The sup­port USA Hockey has pro­vided its women has been far from world lead­ing, how­ever, ac­cord­ing to Lamoureux-Mo­rando and her team­mates. While USA Hockey spends $3.5 mil­lion sup­port­ing its un­der-20 men’s team, ac­cord­ing to lawyers for the women, there is no parallel de­vel­op­ment pro­gram for young women, and USA Hockey spends only about $1 mil­lion an­nu­ally sup­port­ing the women’s na­tional team.

“It con­fuses me how a na­tional gov­ern­ing body can sit there and say, yeah, I can spend $3.5 mil­lion on 17- and 18-year-old boys, and I don’t have a cor­re­spond­ing obli­ga­tion on the women’s side,” Langel said.

In ad­di­tion to more pay, the women want USA Hockey to in­vest more in sup­port­ing their team in non-Olympic years by sched­ul­ing more games. The women’s team typ­i­cally plays nine games in non-Olympic years, ac­cord­ing to Lamoureux-Mo­rando, while the ju­nior men’s team plays 50 or more.

The women’s team is due to re­port to train­ing camp next week, and the world cham­pi­onship tour­na­ment starts March 31. In state­ments this week, USA Hockey of­fi­cials in­di­cated they are con­sid­er­ing find­ing re­place­ment play­ers if the im­passe is not re­solved by then.

Hi­lary Knight, a 27-year-old for­ward who has played on the team since 2006, said sit­ting out the tour­na­ment would be painful for her and her team­mates but nec­es­sary to demon­strate their re­solve. Af­ter win­ning a sil­ver medal in Sochi, Team USA has won the past two world cham­pi­onships.

“It’s a huge sac­ri­fice that we’re putting the world cham­pi­onship on the line, and I think that speaks vol­umes,” Knight said. “Eq­ui­table is the key word. For us, it’s not an un­rea­son­able ask.”

“It con­fuses me how a na­tional gov­ern­ing body can sit there and say, yeah, I can spend $3.5 mil­lion on 17- and 18-year-old boys, and I don’t have a cor­re­spond­ing obli­ga­tion on the women’s side.” JOHN LANGEL, lawyer for U.S. women’s hockey play­ers

JEFF BAS­SETT/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Monique Lamoureux-Mo­rando, right, said the U.S. women’s hockey team is “an af­ter­thought.”

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