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Opinion: The Olympic women’s hockey tournament is not “a cheap medal”

A response to the controversial opinion article in the Toronto Star
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ZAHRA DANAEI/THE VARSITY
ZAHRA DANAEI/THE VARSITY

If you have been active on Twitter the past few days, it is likely that you came across the backlash surrounding the contentious op-ed piece written by Rosie DiManno in the Toronto Star. She implied that only two countries can play women’s hockey at an “elite level,” and, therefore, that the tournament itself doesn’t reflect the definition of sport.

Headlined “Why women’s hockey doesn’t belong in the Olympics,” DiManno’s article argues that the Olympic women’s hockey tournament is nothing more than a “cheap medal” and doesn’t deserve a spot in the Olympics, as the tournament has been dominated by the American and Canadian teams since its debut in 1998.

While there is no doubt that the two countries are consistently at the top of the board and ultimately fight it out for the gold medal each year, their journey to winning, even if it doesn’t feel like a difficult competition, is far from cheap. The women who step onto the ice at the Olympic games are the same women who are working jobs, raising children, advocating for equality, and fighting for equitable pay, all while routinely training and performing at a high level. Yet you are going to call that lifestyle “cheap.”

In the article, DiManno states, “[domination] shouldn’t be the perpetual theme of the thing, especially not in an Olympic tournament that purportedly spotlights the finest in the game.” A columnist who has been honoured by the Canadian Olympic Committee for covering over 10 Olympic games should know that the Olympics aren’t just to “[spotlight] the finest in the game.” They are also an outlet for amateur athletes to test their abilities and compete on an international stage, alongside their professional counterparts. 

She writes that the only way to resolve the imbalance of talent in the women’s ice hockey tournament is to remove the competition entirely. Statements like this only reflect a lack of knowledge and recognition toward how much the women’s game has grown in the last 20 years. It is only because of tournaments like the Olympic games that women are finally getting opportunities to be recognized, like men, in a professional sporting environment. Opportunities like the NHL All-Star Game, as well as the growing National Women’s Hockey League — now known as the Premier Hockey Federation — are essential for the women players.

The imbalance in who wins these tournaments also reflects an imbalance in funding. In a Twitter response to the article, Caroline Oulette, four-time Olympic gold medallist and captain of the 2014 Canadian team in Sochi, pointed out how if you compare the training, resources, and preparation that Canadian and American women have to some of their European competitors, it makes sense that they perform better than European athletes. It is because the US and Canada invest in their talent. 

According to DiManno, the lack of investment from European countries has nothing to do with funding, but instead attributes it to “countries simply having a lack of interest and little appetite for growing the game.” This statement is not only inaccurate, but it also contradicts her point. Countries get more interested by having their team show up, participate, and compete, which is what the teams in the Olympic women’s hockey tournament are doing at this current time.

Removing the entire women’s ice hockey tournament from the Olympic games is the most absurd notion I have ever heard, and the fact that it comes from a woman writer makes the piece that much more demeaning. Once again, women’s hockey has to defend itself, and athletes who dedicate their lives to the stated Olympic ideals find themselves having to defend their pursuit of excellence.

The tournament represents more than just a competition, or a “cheap fight for gold,” as DiManno puts it. It is one of the biggest outlets to grow the game of hockey, draw exposure, and raise attention toward women’s sports. Not only are the Olympics an opportunity of a lifetime for players, but they are an inspiration to young women around the world who have goals of one day playing high level hockey and representing their country on the international Olympic stage.  

Continuing to play and continuing to be a voice for women’s sports is what will help the women’s hockey competition evolve from being dominated by two countries to being dominated by a diverse collection of teams. It will give them the chance to step onto the ice and compete for a medal that will one day be something more than, as DiManno puts it it, “cheap.” It will be because of the Canadian and American women’s hockey teams that the future of the Olympic women’s hockey tournament will have that opportunity.

After the recent backlash, and rebuttal article published by the Toronto Star itself, titled “Women’s hockey deserves its place on the Olympic podium” it’s fair enough to say that DiManno’s opinion on cancelling women’s hockey “ain’t sportin’.”