Women’s hockey: Parity and ‘running up the score’ over the years

From our archives – By TONY SEED

(February 23, 2018) – “Running up the score” came to the fore once again in men’s and women’s ice hockey at the Pyeonchang Winter Games.

US men’s hockey coach Tony Granato refused to shake hands in the traditional post-game handshake on the ice with his Russian counterpart, explicitly accusing him of “running up the score” in a match held on February 17 and won by the latter team 4-0.

The monopoly media kept mum about the lack of sportsmanship by the US coach. Then it once again raised questions about parity in women’s hockey on the eve of the celebrated Gold Medal match between Canada and the USA, the two powers in the sport, on February 22.

The Americans defeated Finland 5-0 in the semi-final, and Canada won over Russia by the same score to advance to the gold-medal game. Neither country was publicly accused of “running up the score,” but the outcome was never in doubt, highlighting that the status quo in women’s hockey remains the same, notwithstanding that the quality of the Russian, Japanese and Korean teams seems to have improved. Just like we’ve seen in a great many other Olympic sports in Pyeonchang.

It is ironic that the two decades “domination” of women’s hockey by the USA and Canada since the sport was incorporated into the Winter Olympics in 1998 is presented as “natural,” even a “great opportunity” to “inspire the next generation of young girls,” while the formation of a unified hockey team of women from the same nation playing together is called “manipulation” and “a charm offensive” by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. What happened to “growing the game”?

The Globe and Mail openly questioned the decision of the International Hockey Federation (IHF) to expand the format from 8 to 10 countries for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. The newspaper, which does not have a single female correspondent at the Pyeonchang Winter Olympics, expressed a concern that it was not aimed at expanding the game but to guarantee the host nation, China, the rival of the USA in Asia, a berth. “Women’s hockey has been a two-country tournament with other countries seemingly thrown in just to round out the schedule,” Grant Robertson, a business writer, declared. He arrogantly dismissed some countries as “hockey backwaters.”

“Heading into Thursday, Canada and the United States are just as closely matched as ever. But for now, just as it was in ‘98, that’s the kind of parity Mr. [René] Fasel [IHF president] can only dream of for the rest of the field” (emphasis added). In other words, a so-called world hockey world championship must be reserved for a tiny handful of select countries. Competition in such tournaments with inferior national teams is a waste of time to be eliminated. Less is more.

For her part, Canadian forward Jennifer Wakefield told the Globe that “the benefit of adding more teams to the mix is that it forces the hockey federations of those countries to invest in the sport, which spurs development of players and helps the game as a whole.

“Adding countries such as Austria, Norway and Denmark makes sense, she said.

“‘I played with a bunch of players that were just on the cusp of the last world championships and I think it’s great to get Austria more involved, Norway, Denmark; there’s some really great players,’ Ms. Wakefield said. ‘And for us to branch out into 10 teams, they’re going to really push the federations to put more money into women’s hockey.’”

“Golden generation of women’s hockey”: capital-centred or human-centred sport?

The Toronto Star is unabashed in its exultation over the “domination” by the USA and Canada. “For Canada, it’s a chance to live up to the standards set by the women who came before them. For the Americans, a chance to repair whatever was broken in that devastating loss in Sochi. But ultimately, playing for gold is where they should be,” Bruce Arthur writes.

“The sport is improving. More countries are better. But it is the United States and Canada, again, forever locked at the peak (emphasis added).”

Look at how they boast about their superiority against all other countries. This is self-righteous indeed coming from a country wherein there is no level playing field. The women’s game is marginalized, sport is being privatized, most men and women athletes train in near-starvation conditions while a few monopolies enrich themselves from sponsorship of the Canadian Olympic Committee and national teams. The privatization extends to Canadian elite youth sport, including hockey academies that can cost parents tens of thousands of dollars annually.

Until last year, US women hockey players received $1,000 a month or $6.25 an hour based on a 40-hour week (knowing athletes, a rather mythical figure). They had to threaten a boycott of international competition to get an increase in this meagre stipend. Canadian women receive $2,000 a month and, in Olympic year, $2,500 or $15.625 hr.

Participation in the national women’s team is overwhelmingly from west of the St. Lawrence River.

How many Indigenous women have participated in these 20 years?

The media champions that the future of women’s hockey in Canada lies in the neo-liberal formula: the development of a professional league – preferably owned by the National Hockey League cartel – and intensifying the wretched commercialization of athletes by private capital opposed to a human-centred approach to expand participation in sport and education as a people’s right. The NHL is a U.S.-based sports cartel. The last time a Canadian-based franchise won the Stanley Cup was 24 years ago. Sports perhaps, but annexed sport.

On December 31, 2017 the Pegula family, who own the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres and the NFL’s Buffalo Bills franchises, bought the Buffalo Beauts of the National Women’s Hockey League, who already play in the Pegula’s arena. It will become the first non-NWHL owned team since the league began in 2015.

The so-called “golden generation of women’s hockey” being hyped by the sports media features young Canadian women – the majority of whom were recruited by and trained in big-time US NCAA colleges, a recruitment that begins in high school or the midget hockey level. Of the 23 players on Canada’s Olympic team in PyeongChang, 21 played NCAA hockey. As recently as 1998, there was no formal NCAA women’s hockey. The media cynically tells Canadian youth to “go South” to make it in sport. Canada is a developed capitalist country yet there is a huge brawn drain to the US. Many athletes in all kinds of athletic disciplines are forced to seek out scholarships to US universities or colleges in hopes of receiving an inexpensive education along with high-level sports training.

Running up the score

The central issues posed by the ruling elite have nothing to do with a level playing field, of equality in competition or gender equity. The concern is whether or not women’s ice hockey will be maintained as an Olympic sport and how to maximize profits from a guaranteed medal opportunity for two countries “forever locked at the peak” competing as to whom will rule the roost. Once again, the US-Canada match has been hyped into a marquee event for the big corporate advertisers, primed for maximum television ratings and revenues.

Parity and equity is one thing,“running up the score” is another – and no minor matter. Its existence or accusations of “the other” betray the strident themes of medal-mania and “winning is everything, the only thing,” of maintaining great nation superiority and the domination of all spheres of international sport.

During the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, I wrote, “During the opening round of the hockey competition, the media uniformly questioned why Team Canada was not running up the score against allegedly inferior opponents – as in women’s hockey – to secure a higher seed in the playoff rounds. This ‘debate’ has persisted into the second round of the competition.” (Sochi 2014: Respect for one’s opponent in sport (2). February 19, 2014)

“Running up the score” is coded language for bullying. It occurs when a team continues to play in such a way as to score additional points after the outcome of the game is no longer in question and the team is assured of winning. It is considered poor sportsmanship and unethical to “run up the score.” Internationally, the whole concept is completely lacking in a modern spirit of friendship of the peoples of the world. For Team USA and Team Canada it has become an unjustifiable norm in international competition with some notable exceptions, as I noted in 2014.

At the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, the Russian team choose not to reply to the provocation by the coach of Team USA. The claim was bogus. Nevertheless, the Inside the Games website went so far as to give them the rationale; it pointed out “The OAR, however, can justifiably claim that they were seeking to ensure the winning margin remained because points difference can impact their quarter-final seeding.”

In women’s hockey at the 2006 Winter Olympics held in Italy, total goals was one of the factors determining home ice in case of a tie. The two favoured teams, the United States and Canada, went all out to post the highest scores possible. When the Canadians posted a combined 26-0 score in their first two games against the much weaker yet the host nation Italy (16-0) as well as Russia (10-0) – and 36-1 overall in their first three games – they were criticized in their home country and abroad.

The Canadian team rationalized that they could not let up in case the Americans blew out one of their opponents. The devil made us do it! Given that the match was held in Turin, Italy the significance of home ice was a poor excuse to justify humiliating weaker opponents.

At the time, Don Cherry, the Hockey Night in Canada personality and well-known chauvinist, according to a CBC report at the time,

had a message for coach Melody Davidson and the Canadian Olympic women’s hockey team: Stop running up the score in Turin, Italy, or else. ‘If you keep it up, you’re committing suicide and they’ll throw [women’s hockey out of the Winter Games after Vancouver in 2010],’ he said, referring to the International Olympic Committee. . . ‘the [Canadian] women have made a big mistake. To run up a score like [16-0], that is wrong. It’s not the Canadian way.

‘There’s hockey gods. You will be paid back for [running up scores]… If you beat all those European [hockey] teams [by lopsided scores] and make a mockery of the hosts [they’ll throw it out].’

In 2010, the team slaughtered Slovakia 18-0 at the World Cup held in Vancouver, BC. Team USA creamed China 12-0.

Why do Canada and the U.S. persist in running up the score and humiliating opponents? This time the chauvinist excuses changed:

“The goal differential is secondary,” coach Melody Davidson told MacLean’s magazine. “It’s more about playing your best. We didn’t come here to put on a second-class show. We came to win five hockey games.”

Playing the gender issue, the coach pointed out that it was OK because the men’s hockey teams were doing the same. At the World Junior Hockey Championship in Saskatchewan that year, Canada beat Latvia 16-0. Team USA defeated the same team 12-1. In its first three games there, Canada outscored the opposition 30-2. “Seems like there’s a lot more patience on one side of the puck,” said Davidson. (“The Canadian women’s hockey team annihilates the competition: Are lopsided games threatening the future of women’s hockey at the Olympics?,” Macleans, February 15, 2010)

The handful of countries competing in ice hockey have responded in a number of ways: demanding financial assistance from the USA and Canada to raise the level of their game; sending athletes to the US NCAA athlete factories and the Canadian junior leagues for training; and even purchasing athletes from the two countries to complete under their national colours. The South Korean men’s team imported seven players from the US and Canada.

The DPRK cheerleaders warm up the crowd before the Korea-Switzerland women’s hockey game, February 10, 2018.

To the chagrin and disdain of the media, the two Koreas created a unified national women’s hockey team. South Korea opened the doors to the participation of women hockey players from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The arena was packed for their games. People cheered their national team to the end of each match, regardless of the score. Yet most media hypocritically raised a stink about about a so-called “charm offensive” and the danger of “politics in sport.” The fact that South Korea already had players from Canada and the USA and employed a Canadian coach, Sarah Murray, whose salary is being paid by the Canadian government, was conveniently overlooked.

The so-called dream-teams

Viewed historically, “running up the score” first became a norm with the allowance of professional athletes to take part in the Olympic Games. At the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics, the so-called dream-teams came into being, when an all-star team of the best professional basketball players from the US National Basketball cartel attended. What “dream” did they represent? This often did little other than humiliate the countries with very little resources, those that do not have coaches, teachers or teaching centres or sports facilities or the things that Cuba, for example, has today, despite it being a Third World country.

In an April, 1999 speech the late Fidel Castro pointed out:

“Those competitions often serve to try to prove the national and even racial superiority of the rich countries and the developed nations and to humiliate other peoples, although some of their best athletes often come from poor countries. It is very difficult for an African people to bring together a soccer team and the resources necessary to make it a really good team, as a result, the African athletes are left only with the chance to join the industrialized countries’ teams.

“Those countries have the resources, the money and they take away the athletes. For years, we have had to struggle very hard in that ever growing disloyal competition and against that policy of snatching away other countries’ athletes.”

The principle of a level playing field is a norm of modern sport. The principle that relations in sport be based on the relations of equality of nations, big and small, or the principle that every nation is as equally as important as the next nation means nothing to these big nation Anglo-American chauvinists, let alone the principles of friendship between peoples and their athletes and respect for one’s opponents.


• While the United States is now the largest importer of foreign athletes, Canada is the greatest exporter. The aggressiveness of U.S. imperialism when it comes to recruiting sources of natural athletic talent is evidenced by the big-time U.S. colleges, which is now a matter of public record. Statistics are hard to find. In 1995-96, Canada was the country of origin for 28.4 per cent (or an estimated 2,514) of the NCAA’s foreign student-athletes, with scholarships worth an estimated $100 million annually.

Canadian athletes are mainly found in hockey, basketball, swimming, soccer and track and field. Don Wilson, the University of Calgary’s Athletic Director, says the Canadian sports that are hardest hit by the “brawn drain” are hockey, track and field, and most women’s team sports. According to a book by Englishman John Bale, The Brawn Drain: Foreign Student-Athletes in American Universities (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 40 per cent of the players in the quarter-final round of the 1983 ice hockey tournament came from Canada.

• From 1920 through 1952, Canada won six golds with the other won by a British team made up of Canadian-trained players. From 1956 through 1992, a Soviet or Moscow-based team won eight of 10 gold medals.

So for the first 17 Winter Olympics, Canada or the USSR/Russia won the gold in hockey 14 times.

  • Aito Iguchi is a 14 year-old Japanese player who is aiming to compete in the high-profile Greater Toronto Hockey League on the path to a pro career. He is among a small, but growing, number of Japanese boys looking to move to Canadian academies or league to advance their careers. [Toronto Star]

• The Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame features a total of four women.

• There are only three places where female athletes have been recognized nationally in Canada — sprinter 1928 Olympic medallist and world record holder Bobbie Rosenfeld, in Toronto, near the CN Tower; distance swimmer Marilyn Bell, who crossed Lake Ontario in 1954, at the Toronto lakefront; and the Grads, the famed Edmonton basketball team that toured and conquered the world from 1915-1940, near Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton.

Additional reading on this topic

Northern Ice. A shame on Canada


Filed under Athletes, Hockey, Olympics – PyeongChang, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Women’s hockey: Parity and ‘running up the score’ over the years

  1. Pingback: Sportsmanship Canadian style | Friendship First, Competition Second – An Amateur Sport Website

  2. Pingback: A shame on Canada | Tony Seed's Weblog

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