More than 200 women’s hockey players from around the world banded together Thursday to announce plans to boycott professional leagues in North America.
The #ForTheGame movement was launched on social media, with many of the top players in the world, including U.S. National Team standouts Hilary Knight and Kendall Coyne Schofield refusing to play until there is a “sustainable professional league for Women’s Hockey.”
With the folding of the CWHL, Canada’s lone professional league, becoming official Wednesday, that left the NWHL as the only North American professional league. The NWHL consists of five teams, with plans to expand into former CWHL markets Toronto and Montreal. The league released this statement Thursday:
ESPN’s Emily Kaplan reported Thursday, citing sources, that the players’ hope is that the NHL will take action to set up a financially sustainable North American league. The NHL has provided small financial support to the CWHL and NWHL.
“Many players have gone on the record to say they want the NHL to support a women’s league with financial and infrastructural resources, and sources told ESPN that the players hope the joint announcement could apply pressure on the NHL to act,” Kaplan wrote.
The NHL has stated in the past that it would continue to support women’s professional hockey, but would not do that it does not “need to form or directly subsidize an existing professional league.”
But perhaps a boycott from the only current North American league might force the NHL to take action.
“We’ve certainly seen a lot of the NHL’s statements that have mentioned they would be prepared to step in if there is no viable option for women’s ice hockey in North America,” said Meghan Duggan, a 2018 Olympic gold medalist, via Kaplan. “If that opportunity presents itself, I trust that they have a vision as well. If you look at what history tells us, it’s that startup women’s leagues are very successful when they’re connected to an existing league. That’s true throughout Europe, in women’s soccer, the WNBA, and the WNSL with their support from U.S. Soccer. That’s part of what we’re looking for.”
The U.S. Women’s National team made a similar move in 2017, threatening to sit out the World Championships in an attempt for equity in USA Hockey. They ultimately won that battle.
It’s an inherited risk for the players, with the NHWL season set to begin in October. Then again, it also is a risk to play professional hockey in a league that doesn’t supply basic needs like health insurance or in-season housing.
Thumbnail photo via David E. Klutho/USA TODAY Sports Images