The Swedish women’s national ice hockey team is striking. They are refusing to play until several demands are met. According to the players, the Swedish Ice Hockey Association (SIHA) has mistreated the Women’s national team for many years. SIHA has argued that decreasing economic support is due to the national team’s bad results in international tournaments. But it is not only a strike for economic issues, but it’s also about respect. Male players like Filip Forsberg and Mattias Ekholm have expressed their support for the strike.
Turning back the clock to April 2019, to the 2019 Women’s Ice Hockey World Championships, expectations were high as usual for the “Lady Crowns”. Just like in the Men’s tournament, people are expecting them to compete for the gold medal every year. Instead, they finished last, after winning only one game in the tournament. After coming second to last in the tournament, they were moved down to the second tier of the World Championship.
Shameful, said most writers, competing to describe the darkest stories on Swedish women’s hockey. Some even said that this is even worse a trauma than losing against Belarus in 2002.
On the 20th of August, the Lady Crowns were scheduled to compete in a tournament of five nations. But as of last week, they are on a strike, raising the question of the future of women’s hockey in Sweden.
Demands for Equal Treatment
In a newly published list of demands, it’s clear that the biggest issue is the economy. Most players must work while playing for their club. When on international duty, this means that players will lose income during tournaments. For the period 2018-19 SIHA and the SHL got together and gave the women’s national team €75 000 to cover the players’ loss of income. After the World Championship, SIHA announced that they will no longer provide this coverage. Unless they change their minds, it will cause the national team’s players to lose money to represent their country.
Mistreatment is a big issue too. When it is all added together it seems like SIHA treats women’s hockey like a side project. While getting very little support, the SIHA and the public still expect them to perform against teams with much better preparation. An example frequently used is from a tournament in North America last year. The team took a flight just the day before the tournament and had almost no time to practice before the first game. While being unprepared and jetlagged, they are still supposed to compete with the best of the best.
The material support from SIHA is very lacklustre too, according to the national team. SIHA assigns them clothes for men, not women. Besides, they must not wear their own gear due to SIHA’s agreements with certain brands. Issues that they claim to have brought up to SIHA for several years, without any response.
Taking a Look at the Domestic League
The division between the national team and the governing body runs very deep. But now people demand answers on the question of the future of women’s ice hockey in Sweden. It seems like when other countries have taken leaps in developing the sport, it has stood still in Sweden.
Key to growing the sport is a good hockey league. The Swedish Women’s Hockey League (SDHL) consists of ten teams, with Luleå being the strongest team at the moment. Roughly two-thirds of the 300 players are from Sweden, while the remaining third consists of foreign players. However, among the top ten scoring players last season, there were only two Swedes represented. At the same time, five Finnish players ended up in the top ten. In the top 20, there were only four Swedes. While the international aspect of hockey is one of it’s greatest features, one must question the lack of high impact players from Sweden in the Swedish league.
It seems clear that women’s hockey is lagging in Sweden. But solving it is a tougher question. The issues with the national team are more of a symptom of a larger problem. According to Tommy Boustedt, the chairman of SIHA, only half of the youth hockey organizations have hockey teams for girls. While more and more are attending the teams that do exist, they usually have to compete for ice-time with the bigger boys teams.
Many young girls do start playing hockey, at about a similar rate as in other countries. But there is a huge dropoff at the ages 10-14. The exact reasons for this are still unclear, but access to ice is important. Teams are pushing the girls aside as the boys are getting older. Resulting in that very few women can or willing to start their careers in hockey.
This is why the national team’s strike is important, no matter which way it goes. Because, #hockeyisforeveryone. If women’s hockey is not prioritized, we risk losing an entire generation of Swedish hockey players.
Feature Image Credit: (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)