VANCOUVER—Senator Marty Deacon is confident that a viable alternative to the Canadian Women’s Hockey League will emerge and credits the striking female hockey players, who recently formed a union, for their advocacy.
An advocate for amateur sports, former Olympic coach and the director of the Canadian Olympic Committee, Deacon is deeply concerned about the fact that the CWHL disbanded in May over financial challenges.
“We now know it’s a tremendous loss. We know that we can be better, and we can do right and do well and find a structure that allows our best women’s hockey players to play and compete in Canada,” Deacon told Star Vancouver on the sidelines of the Women Deliver conference.
Although Deacon was not a board member for the sports organization, she knows many of the former board members, and says they “worked so hard to try to keep it going.”
Earlier this year, the CWHL announced it would close, citing that its business model had proven to be “economically unsustainable.”
“It’s very upsetting,” Deacon said.
“I think when these kinds of things happen I think it creates awareness that helps the next step,” she said.
Following the league’s closure, the U.S.-based National Women’s Hockey League attempted to expand into Canada with teams in Montreal and Toronto. But the Canadian players have resisted the expansion, saying they don’t like the league’s long-term prospects.
In mid-May, about 200 women hockey players vowed to not play in any North American league next season until they get the league they want. They are demanding a living wage to play hockey in one strong, marketable, professional league in North America.
Deacon commends the players for bringing awareness to the issue.
“They’ll take on advocacy, and that helps tell and build the story in a more public light to get the support and help we need to keep this women’s terrific hockey alive. And in sport that’s a cycle that has happened before.”
Shortly after the players announced their walkout, they created a player’s union called the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association, which is dedicated to promoting and supporting the creation of a single women’s professional hockey league in North America.
The CWHL featured stars such as American forwards Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin and Finland goaltender Noora Raty.
For however long the protest lasts, national-team players will get on the ice for camps, games and tournaments via their country’s respective hockey federations. The Canadian women, for example, participate in regular skills sessions with regional coaches paid for by Hockey Canada.
But over half the players in the CWHL were not on a national team.
Women in the CWHL pursued professional careers, worked full-time jobs and started a family while trying to train and practise enough to compete with and against the likes of Knight, Decker, Poulin and Raty.
With files from The Canadian Press
Tessa Vikander is a Vancouver-based reporter covering identity and inequality. Follow her on Twitter: @tessavikander