Loss of CWHL is a loss for gender equality in sports

Even if you don’t personally care for hockey, you absolutely know someone who does. Sports bars and neighbourhood pubs alike fill to capacity for games, and reruns or play-by-plays fill the static in between.

Yes, hockey is important to Canadians. So why have we now taken a leap in the wrong direction when it comes to gender equality on the ice?

On March 31, it was announced that the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) is to cease operations by May 1. The announcement comes in light of financial instability. This is concerning because while the National Hockey League (NHL) doesn’t prohibit women from joining, it consists entirely of men. Taking into consideration size, speed, and the contact the sport allows, this is probably for the best; though now that there is no professional women’s league in Canada, there may be more women trying to get onto NHL teams.

In 1992, Manon Rheaume became the first and only woman to ever play in the NHL. She played one exhibition game in 1992 with the Tampa Bay Lightning against the St. Louis Blues, and once more in 1993 against the Boston Bruins. No woman has played in any kind of NHL game since.

While hockey leagues outside of North America have had more female involvement, it is difficult for women to succeed in the NHL for a number of reasons. The NHL has collected some of the fastest, largest hockey players in the world. The average NHL player is over 6’1”, and weighs over 204 lbs. This makes it increasingly difficult for women to enter the field, even those above average height and weight. In addition to this, as is the case with many other sports, there seems to be a kind of “boys club” atmosphere in the NHL. Prominent players in the league have been known to say incredibly sexist things, and almost nothing ever gets done about it.

Some critics cited the CWHL’s “lack of exposure” for problems in the league, even before there was any inkling that they may disband. This is, objectively, just true. The CWHL got very little airtime in comparison to the NHL, and even those games were often ridiculed by hockey fans. And here, at the end of the league, everyone seems shocked that it’s shutting down.

Not only is this a giant step backwards for Canadian hockey, but for Canada as a whole. All of our talented female hockey players will be forced to move to other teams in other places, the most likely options seeming to be the United Women’s Hockey League (UWHL) or the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), both of which are American. Should the women from the CWHL choose to move to one of these leagues, not only will they play in the US for their regular seasons, but will also likely play on the American women’s team during the Olympics.

What’s done is done; there is no conceivable way to save the CWHL now. In the future, we as Canadians should be more supportive of female hockey players, who work hard, continuously set records, and are consistently favoured for the Olympic gold and world championships. They are just as important as their male counterparts and should be treated as such.

Payton Ferguson

Payton Ferguson is a English major by day, 2019-20 Opinion Editor for The Gateway by night (and also day). She enjoys long walks to the fridge, writing until her wrists ache, and bombarding social media with pictures of her chihuahuas.

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