Women's Hockey Faces Olympic Ouster Unless Reforms Are Made

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Women's Hockey Faces Olympic Ouster Unless Reforms Are Made
Harry How/Getty Images

No matter how much you try to disguise it or paste a nice picture on it, women's hockey is in big trouble as an Olympic sport unless much-needed reforms are made.

The slaughters by the American and Canadian teams that are merely a repeat of the last two Olympics show that women have failed to deal effectively with the competition problem.

The Olympic tournaments and world championships are simply made-for-North-America medals.

These games are on the level of Harlem Globetrotter matches, until Canada plays the United States.

There was big play a few years ago when Sweden upset the United States in a semi-final only to be clobbered by Canada in the final.

Sorry girls, you haven't progressed at all.  You can keep hauling that one out the way the United States keeps hauling out the 1980 Miracle On Ice.  It doesn't make anyone other than Canada and the United States a hockey power.

The two North American teams are stuck in a catch-22.  If they don't go all out it is a betrayal of sport and increases boredom; and if they play all out they run up the score, get criticized for piling it on, and also increases boredom.

Of course, the women like to disguise the problem.  They haul out foreign players who dutifully make rubbish comments about "how excited I am to be here," and "how much I am learning."

Next time, they'll only get beaten by eight goals instead of 12.

How bad is it?  There are articles on the Internet about Bulgaria losing to Slovakia 82-0 on 139 shots in 2008.  Fortunately, Bulgaria is not at the Olympics.

Before I get accused of gender bias, the men have nothing to boast about, either. 

As I wrote in an article last year, international hockey has failed to expand in both men's and women's sections.

On the men's side, nearly 40 years after the historic Canada-USSR match, the same seven countries that formed the elite back then (Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland) remain the same. 

Only Switzerland has made a little progress.  The rest of the competing teams are still B-squads.

The only change is that the remaining five countries have caught up to Canada and Russia who used to be above the rest like Canada and the United States are today in women's hockey.

As I wrote in another article last year, hockey could learn from curling where China won the world championship last year.

But the men can get away with it more.  They have the stars and at least there are seven countries with a chance to win.

Coaches and officials of women's hockey still spout the party line and say that women's hockey has to start somewhere like men's did and that things will get better with time.

But they won't without reforms.  And they're going to be tougher for women to accomplish because they are so much further behind men.

First, there is problem of participation.  I managed to find an article that lists some of the statistics on women's hockey.

In Canada, there are over 80,000 participants and in the United States over 50,000.

But the numbers fall drastically after that.  In Finland, there are under 4,000 participants and in Russia, shockingly under 300.

But besides increasing interest and recruitment, other reforms are necessary and they don't start at the Olympic level but much earlier.

Assuming the money and interest is there, I would start with two reforms.

It's a no-brainer to mention that better coaching abroad is needed.  Better coaching is critical if women's hockey is to advance.

But the biggest reform has to start in Canada.  It is time, even if it is only in one province, to set up a junior level league for girls like there is for boys.

The CHL is still the best developer of hockey talent in the world and every year, there are no shortage of recruits from abroad eager to fill the places that are open for them.

When they come from abroad, the boys are taken in by Canadian families, become like adopted sons, and continue their education in Canada while honing their skills in the CHL.

Does the system work?  That is a big reason why the Americans, the Slovaks, the Czechs, the Swedes, and the Finns were able to catch up to Canada and Russia. 

They play in Canada against Canadians in similar development and learn what is necessary to make it in the NHL.

If women are going to progress in hockey, something similar has to be set up for them.

A junior league has to be set up for girls where there will be places for foreigners to learn hockey along with Canadians and Americans.

But there will have to be one difference; more places for foreign girls to learn will have to be created. 

Sorry girls, but national boundaries will have to be even more erased for you than they are for men.  If you want women's hockey to succeed internationally, you have to realize that you are all in this together.

International women's hockey is so much farther behind men's that drastic steps are needed to pull it up by the bootstraps.  Women's hockey outside North America won't succeed without help from Canada and the United States.

The present competition leaves women's hockey open to boredom and criticism.  If they want to remain in the Olympics as a credible sport, reforms are going to have to be made. 

How hungry are women to remain in the Olympics playing hockey?

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