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Female pro hockey players boycott all leagues over lack of health insurance, resources

Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin (29) and Sarah Potomak (44) celebrate after defeating Russia in IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship preliminary round action in Plymouth, Mich., on Monday, April 3, 2017. .
Canada's Marie-Philip Poulin (29) and Sarah Potomak (44) celebrate after defeating Russia in IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship preliminary round action in Plymouth, Mich., on Monday, April 3, 2017. . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Kryk

More than 200 women‘s hockey players, including the game’s biggest names, said on Thursday they will not play in any North American league next season as part of a boycott they hope will bring about a more economically viable league.

The group, which includes Olympic gold medallists Marie-Philip Poulin of Canada and American Hilary Knight, said they cannot make a sustainable living playing in the women‘s professional game.

“Having no health insurance and making as low as two thousand dollars a season means players can’t adequately train and prepare to play at the highest level,” the players said in a statement released on their social media accounts.

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“Because of that, together as players, we will not play in ANY professional leagues in North America this season until we get the resources that professional hockey demands and deserves.”

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The decision comes a little over a month after the sudden demise of the six-team Canadian Women‘s Hockey League (CWHL) left the future of women‘s professional hockeyin disarray with many top players without a club team to play for.

The CWHL’s decision left the five-team National Women‘s Hockey League (NWHL), founded in 2015 and based exclusively in the United States, as the only professionalhockey option for women in North America.

The NWHL, which had an average attendance of 954 at its 46 games during the 2018-19 season, did not immediately respond when asked how the boycott could affect its operations.

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While the possibility of not playing professionally in North America next season could soon become a reality the players feel the boycott is the best way to see the creation of a single, economically viable professional league.

“This is the moment we’ve been waiting for – our moment to come together and say we deserve more,” the players said.

“It’s time for a long-term viable professional league that will showcase the greatest product of women‘s professional hockey in the world.”

Players, and even the commissioners, from the NWHL and now-defunct CWHL have previously said a single women‘s professional league in North America would be best for the sport.

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Many pundits have suggested the ideal outcome for women‘s hockey in North America would be if the National Hockey League, home to the top men’s players, provided its infrastructure, marketing and branding to unite the two leagues.

READ MORE: U.S. women’s hockey league announces plan to expand to Canada after CWHL folds

But the NHL, which has provided financial support to women‘s hockey, has previously said it was hesitant about assuming control over either league because it does not believe in their models.

In an emailed statement to Global News, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the hockey league needs more information.

“The NWHL is an existing league with an existing organization and business plan. We do not intend to interfere with their business or their objectives,” Daly said.

“At the same time, we continue to support the objective of allowing for the opportunity of the best women hockey players in the world to play the sport at the professional level.

“We will further explore the situation privately before taking any affirmative position on next steps.”

In an emailed statement on Thursday, the NWHL said it was offering higher salaries to players and was confident in a new season.

“We are offering increased salaries and a 50-50 revenue split from league-level sponsorship and media rights deals,” the NWHL said. “Coming off an incredible 2018-19, we are confident another fantastic season is ahead”

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The group of women who have come together say they feel a sense of responsibility to leave the game in better shape than when they entered it.

“While we have all accomplished so much, there is no greater accomplishment than what we have the potential to do right here and right now – not just for this generation of players, but for the generations to come,” the players’ statement read.

“With that purpose, we are coming together, not just as individual players, but as one collective voice to help navigate the future and protect the players needs.”

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