Let me be up front and tell you that I am not offended by Jeff Passan's article. You will get to read that in a moment. It is well written, if short sighted. Jeff does good work, I simply disagree with him on this subject. You see, Jeff believes that Women's hockey is not competitive enough to warrant inclusion in the winter games in it's current form. He sites scores of US and Canada games and the disparity in talent between those two squads and the rest of the world.
You can find the article over on Yahoo!.
Make the jump, and we will discuss. Call it wading into the Olympic pool.
I should probably tell you a quick story. When women's hockey was just becoming a sanctioned sport in high schools, I was there. I attended a game for the first time when I was 17. It was a Blaine- Coon Rapids game versus someone else. Yes, Blaine and Coon Rapids had to be combined, that's how new this sport was. Anyway, about halfway through the game, one of the girls for Blaine /CR leveled a member of the opposition with one of the most beautiful open ice checks I have ever seen. Clean, hard, beautiful. I jumped up and cheered. No one else did.
The refs arm went up, and our side was whistled for roughing. A hockey mom in the stands gave me a dirty look and told me "You can't do that in hockey." I about vomited. Instead, I left. I never went back. I am of a mind set that if you aren't going to play by the rules of hockey, don't call it hockey. I am talked to women who play hockey. They hate the rules changes. They grew up playing with checking, why take it out now? I believe that there are women on some of these squads that rival the talent and ability of some of the best men's players. Let them show it.
So, I love hockey, I love that women play hockey. I hate that they can't check. That's the only thing I hate about it.
Back to the article and topic at hand.
Jeff (Can I call you Jeff?) brings up the disparity in victories for the US and Canadian squads in past Olympics:
The Vancouver Games mark the fourth for women’s hockey. Including the 18-0 win, two-time gold medalist Canada’s aggregate score is 127-19. The United States won the other gold. Its cumulative embarrassments: 113-18, which, after 16 games, comes to an average of 7-1. Six-goal games cannot sustain a sport.
Six goal games can most certainly sustain a sport, just so long as there is more than one team capable of doing so. In his own admission, the US and Canada both have this capability. Sure, there is a huge disparity between the teams that play in the prelims. There always is. I am guessing that the guys and gals who are eliminated in the preliminary rounds of luge are by rather embarrassing amounts too. Only those prelims are done outside the games themselves, in qualifiers.
Jeff says that unless the disparity can be fixed:
the International Olympic Committee should issue an ultimatum to the sport’s powers that be: Figure out how to balance the sport’s competitiveness or risk losing standing as an Olympic competition after the 2018 Games.
He offers no suggestion on how this new found balance would be found. Perhaps forcing US and Candian stars to play for countries they have no citizenship in or loyalty to? Perhaps line all the women up on the ice and choose teams in a draft?
Let's face it. Some countries don't let women do the same things that men do. Some women are not allowed to drive cars, let alone play sports. Most of these countries do not participate in the winter Olympics. However, many countries that do still have strong stigmas against women playing certain sports, much like here in the US there is a stigma against men being cheerleaders or figure skaters. Those are "women's sports." (For the record, I do not agree.)
It will take some time for countries to get over the stigma of women lacing up the skates. Hell, it took this long to get Canada and the US to do so, and these are two of the most progressive and hockey loving countries on the planet. It may take awhile before the Chinese figure out the game. When was the last time China was a powerhouse in hockey? Anyone? Bueller? Never is the answer. But they could be. 1. something billion people, surely they can figure out the game of hockey. However, it will take some time. It is amazing and admirable that they only lost 12-1.
In discussion on Twitter, Nathan suggested Jeff take a look at the World Junior Championships. So I did it for him. The results of the 2010 Men's WJCs had a bronze medal game with a result of 11-4, Sweden beating Switzerland. In a prelim, Canada beat Latvia 16-0The gold medal game was close, and featured the US and Canada. The combined results of winner vs loser was 202-63, a spread of 139 goals.
In the Women's WJC, the results were similar. However, the gold medal game didn't even feature the US. It was Canada defeating Sweden. The Russians defeated Slovakia in the bronze medal game. The US was eliminated before the medal round even started. Combined results? Winners 195 - losers 49. A spread of 146 goals. Sure, there were blow outs in the prelims. Always are.
The point of bringing up the WJC is twofold. First, it shows that the scores are similar in other international level play. Second, it shows the future of the sport. Women's teams are progressing. The Russians, Swedes, and Slovaks are fielding better teams than ever before. Sure, the Slovaks just got blown out by Canada. However, they are progressing. Why cut off that progress just because it doesn't entertain you, Jeff?
Should we eliminate the luge from competition? Germany has some pretty serious domination in that sport. They have taken 27 of a possible 36 medals since 1964 in women's luge, and 16 of the possible 36 in men's competition.
I bet if I did more research, most Olympic sports are dominated by specific countries, and I am betting that early versions of those competitions were even more disparate. It took until this year for the Americans to win a medal in Nordic Combined. I say we ban the sport because Americans can't compete.
Women's sports, in many instances, are behind the progress of men's. This is not due to a lack of ability nor talent. It is due to the deep seeded, long standing bigotry that has been a part of society for eons. Men have dominated society, and sport, for most of human existence. To cut the progress short just because some nations are not progressing as fast as others is the wrong way to think.
Even suggesting that hockey be eliminated from the Olympics is sacrilegious to me. I don't care if Bulgaria can't compete on the grand stage. They tried, and that is a huge step. They got blown out 82-0 to a team that went on to get blown out 18-0. You know what else that Bulgarian team did? They took their lumps and not once did we read about them complaining about it. The biggest accomplishment of that Bulgarian squad? They blazed the trail. They made a path for little girls in Bulgaria to follow.
The Olympics are supposed to be about showcasing the best athletes in the world. Female hockey players deserve that right as well, and they deserve the same amount of time men's hockey was given to develop. The Olympics should be helping to blaze the trail for female hockey players, not telling them that unless they can immediately compete with the US and Canada, they have no right o play.
Go ahead, IOC, follow Jeff's plan. Issue the ultimatum. After 2018, remove women's hockey from the slate of games, and watch the result. Watch as women's hockey suffers another 50 years or better of stigma. Watch as particiaption in Slovakia, Bulgaira, Belarus, and Russia plummet. Ban women's hockey from the Olympics and watch as bigoted men all over the world bask in the glory and say "see, they can't play hockey."
(Author's note. I am not, repeat not, accusing Jeff of being bigot. Thank you.)