EDITORIAL: A double standard for Olympic women’s hockey

Editorial/Opinion by

One of the best things about the Olympic Games is its commitment to gender equality. Eschewing the common male-dominated athletic hierarchy, almost every event in both the Summer and Winter Games awards medals to both genders as equals. And after some of the great female athletic performances we’ve witnessed during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics – by Joannie Rochette, Petra Majdic, and Clara Hughes, to name just a few – it has been refreshing to see people who normally ignore women’s sports sit up and take notice.

That’s part of the reason why two recent controversies surrounding Olympic women’s hockey have been so disheartening – they reveal a disturbing double standard that still exists when it comes to female athletes.

Lopsided victories in round-robin play sparked the first of these controversies, as Canada and the U.S.A. steamrolled their competition. That led to International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge issuing an ominous warning for the future of the sport, saying that women’s hockey “cannot continue [to be an Olympic event] without improvement.”

Rogge is right to say that women’s hockey needs parity. The U.S. and Canada are vastly superior to every other country and, barring a massive upset, will almost always meet in the gold medal game. But, the fault doesn’t lie with the Americans or Canadians: it’s in the way other nations fund female athletics. Many countries that field weak female hockey teams, such as Russia, lavish funding upon men’s hockey teams while providing only a pittance for the women. They deserve to be embarrassed in blowouts for their lack of commitment to growing the women’s game.

Women’s hockey needs to be given time to develop, like men’s hockey – where, in 1924 for example, the Canadian men outscored their opposition 122-3. Rogge is right to shame nations that ignore women’s hockey at the expense of male sports. Hopefully his words will be enough.

The second controversy occurred after photos surfaced of the Canadian women’s hockey team celebrating after the gold medal game. The team’s post-game celebration spilled out of the dressing room and onto the ice of Canada Hockey Place, where several players were photographed drinking beer and champagne, and smoking cigars in the empty arena. The outcry was predictable from many corners. “It is not what we want to see,” said Gilbert Felli, executive director of the IOC. “I don’t think it’s a good promotion of sport values.”

What’s hypocritical, however, is the double standard. Canadian Olympic skeleton champion Jon Montgomery was celebrated for doing much the same thing while walking through Whistler village. On his way to a CTV interview, Montgomery walked down the street, on-camera, while drinking from a pitcher of beer he was handed by a fan. Montgomery was drinking in public, on national television – yet no one protested. In fact, The Globe and Mail’s Stephen Brunt called it one of the best moments of the Olympics.

Both celebrations were spontaneous and joyous – a well-deserved release for athletes who train and abstain for years in order to reach the pinnacle of their sport. It’s disappointing that only the female celebration was singled out for being “unsporting.”