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LETTER: Equitable ice for all athletes is important, regardless of gender

'Sadly, what has become increasingly clear as my daughters have progressed through hockey is that the support to equitably prioritize the development of ALL athletes, regardless of what gender-based association they play for, has not been a priority by all communities'
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EloraFergusToday received the following letter to the editor in response to the letter Grand River Mustangs call for review of 'outdated' ice allocation policy.

Why equitable Ice for all athlete’s is important, regardless of gender.

With the inaugural season of the Professional Women’s Hockey League(PWHL) on the horizon in Jan 2024, women and girls are ramping up to start their hockey seasons locally. In an early Instagram post to fans the PWHL stated “We have never seen more excitement with, or demand for women’s sports”.  

Sept 17, 2023 the CBC published an article entitled “What does the new PWHL mean for women's hockey? A guide for those who aren't fans — yet” stating that “Last year, 2.7 million people in Canada watched the Olympic gold medal game in Beijing between the Canadian and U.S. women. And the game averaged 3.54 million viewers in the U.S., more than any NHL game televised in the U.S. in the 2021-22 season”. Similar to young male athletes fantasizing of their spot in the NHL, this league brings a viable option for girls to make their big dreams of playing pro even more of a reality. With the NHL entering its 106th season it is quite clear that the historical/societal expectations for women’s hockey lag behind by over a century. According to the volunteer mandatory respect in sport for activity leaders program, “if a girl hasn’t participated in sport by age 10, there is only a 10% chance she will be physically active as an adult. Furthermore, only 16 % of adult women report sport participation”. This program also encourages leaders “to understand the challenges facing women and girls in sport”. 

Having a son and two daughters that play hockey, in multiple associations, has allowed clarity that the pros and cons of hockey are often the same no matter where you go. Getting to play a sport with like-minded peers, working together towards a united goal, having a sweaty game of mini stick in the hall of the tournament hotel with your friends, dying your hair for playoffs….it’s all the same whether it is with a male dominant or female dominant team.

My daughters started their hockey the same as my son, in a rural co-ed initiation program, close to home. It was fantastic for teaching the basic of hockey. However, as is developmental expected, the boys stopped passing to the girls and it would be isolating for my daughters to have to get dressed in a change room away from her teammates. It was time to make a switch so they could get the psycho-social experience to pair with the game. The complete hockey experience has made our girls fall in love with our nation’s sport.

As most rural minor hockey associations (divided by municipality) face amalgamation to keep their programs competitive or even a local league team at every age, women’s hockey is still decades behind. Even if there is good intention in small communities, there are not the numbers to independently run female hockey programs. Therefore, the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association (OWHA) is forced to have larger regional borders so that girl’s hockey can have the same inclusive, fun and competitive hockey their male counterparts enjoy.
Sadly, what has become increasingly clear as my daughters have progressed through hockey is that the support to equitably prioritize the development of ALL athletes, regardless of what gender-based association they play for, has not been a priority by all communities.
Through request I was able to obtain the Indoor Facility Allocation Policy for Centre Wellington and there were a few things that caught my attention. At the time this was written, surrounding municipalities either advised they don’t have a policy or they did not reply to my request. While the policy makes its intent clear: have a “uniform policy for residents and non-profit organizations (to) feel equally and fairly treated and ensure that equal opportunity exists regardless of gender”, there are a several aspects of the policy that perpetuate the lack of equitable opportunity for girls hockey.

To be fair, this policy is out-dated (written in 2008) and perhaps hasn’t had a chance to be evaluated by the newly-appointed diversity, equity and inclusion advisory committee yet?

These comments include:

1. “80% of residents playing are from centre wellington”. 

  • This is punishing girls hockey for the OWHA set regional boundaries and the ability to draw players from adjacent centres to keep girl hockey at a competitive level. Without the mustangs collective there would be no girls hockey,
  • This is also true for surrounding municipalities. Tax playing families are driving out of municipality to have opportunity. Contributing their share of equitable ice allocation to teams that support their resident athletes should be considered a priority.
  • due to the historical lack of equity, many local players have left to go to larger centres like Waterloo and Guelph which requires recruitment from local surrounding municipalities to maintain a competitive edge.

2.     “Accommodating new groups at the expense of the existing groups will be considered only in cases where a program is being introduced into the area for the first time and no other program of this nature is available”.

  • Males dominate minor hockey associations and have had decades to build their registration and it is unrealistic to think that girls hockey can compete. 
  • getting away from the messaging that female success is coming at the expense of male success is an outdated narrative. Re-framing this to a commitment to equitable opportunity for ALL athletes would be a nondiscriminatory approach.             
  • Equal ice is not just about the number of hours/week. It is also about the quality of ice. Having female players sleep deprived from 6 am practices, their families have to pull them out of school/leave work early to get to a so called 4 pm prime time ice practice or drive to excess for further ice availability is not “Equal" 

3.     “Organizations that experience an increase in registration will not be allotted additional facility time at the expense of other organizations that maintain a similar registration level from previous years”.

  • It should simply be based on the up to date number of athletes per association. Gender should have nothing to do with ice allocations.
  • Even based on registration number by July 1 or Aug 1.

4.     “Allocation will be based upon registration data from the previous season”

  • Women’s hockey is a rapidly growing sport. Having a set policy based on previous season data continue to delay the advancement and development of women’s hockey. Data and adjustments often lag behind more than one season.
  • With the positive impact on young female athletes, girls hockey has rapidly drawn a lot of players from previous boys or co ed associations therefore lowering their registration numbers. 

Councillor Bronwynne Wilton recently shared a Parks and Recreation Ontario linkedin article quoting, “Parks and recreation is not a NOT soft services – they are critical infrastructure”. Having our local elected municipal leaders take active interest, ask questions and develop policy that make girls hockey equally and equitably accessible in all local communities needs to be a priority. In fact, our girls and future healthy active women in our community depend on it.
I would like to acknowledge that for the purpose of this submission, I often refer to men and women or boys and girls for the purpose of displaying gender based inequity. However, I recognize that not all athletes identify in this capacity and in the large scheme my opinion is equity for athletes.  

Jodi Colwill