Jacques goes Rogge - Macleans.ca

Jacques goes Rogge

Our women’s hockey gold may be the last one for a while.


As Canadians we all selfishly want women’s hockey to remain part of the Winter Olympics, but can we all agree that we’re going to have to come up with arguments for doing so that aren’t crapola? When Jacques Rogge dared to mention yesterday that the tournament had been just a teeny tiny bit lopsided, Monique Lamoureux, a U.S. forward, observed that “If you look back 30 to 40 years ago, Canada and Russia were blowing men’s hockey out of the water, but other countries came around.”

It’s rather bad luck for her that some of us can remember almost 30, nay, 40 years back, isn’t it? Split the difference pretty much down the middle and you find yourself with a seat at the 1976 Canada Cup, where Canada had a hard struggle to win the final on home ice—not against the all-conquering Russians, who finished tied for third with Sweden in the round robin, but against the Czechs. It’s simply not true that women’s hockey has arrived at the state of maturity that men’s hockey stood at “30 or 40 years ago”. The correct figure would surely be more like 60 or 70. And there is no evidence of any progress toward parity whatsoever.

The National Post‘s Scott Stinson argues in defence of women’s hockey that the IOC’s decision-making about what sports belong at the Winter Games is incomprehensible and silly, which it is, and that it is compromised by politics and money, which it is, and that some of these sports are sheer cold-weather tomfoolery, as some of them surely are. But the parity problem is the only one that Rogge raised, and it is distinct from all these considerations. The biathlon may seem ridiculous—though, frankly, nothing much that Canadians do is as important to the existence of Canada as practical skill at skiing-and-shooting may be to the northern neighbours of Russia or Germany. What counts in addressing Rogge’s argument is that the biathlon is legitimately competitive. The historic medals in the sport are distributed fairly widely; gold and silver aren’t the exclusive preserve of anybody.

Should the IOC bring back women’s hockey in 2014? The strongest argument in favour is not the argument that the sport is racing headlong toward some hypothetical future of genuine international competitiveness. It’s the argument from gender equity—if we let the men play, the women should be entitled to—but everybody knows that one won’t get you very far with the IOC. The wisest counsel for fans of the women’s game is probably to be prepared for life outside the Olympics. If your dignity depends on being involved with the International Olympic Committee, that’s a problem in itself: it means you’re looking for dignity in a very inappropriate place.

Consider baseball. It didn’t feel threatened when the IOC cast it into outer darkness; millions consider it a thing worth doing, watching, and enjoying for its own sake. (And if those millions were mere thousands, that would be all right too.) Its mythology and popularity stand apart from and above the lust for gold medals. In fact, baseball doesn’t have any physical trophies of real significance; the number of people who can name the last 10 Cy Young Award winners in each league is at least a hundred times greater than the number who can tell you what the damn thing looks like.

Hockey, as Canadians traditionally conceive of it, isn’t like this; it’s the product of a monarchical culture where silverware has denoted heritage, survival, and memory for several thousand years. So it’s hard for us to see past the shinies. But I suspect the lady hockeyists will have to learn to. Starting right about now.


Jacques goes Rogge

  1. I would look at the time argument a bit differently. You say 60-70 years ago there was a two team domination of the sport. True, but I would look at it from the perspective of how far from the inception of the sport that sort of thing was occurring. Really, we are only 12 years into the sport of womens ice hockey (I know it was played before that, but let's us Nagano as the starting point for the Europeans). If you look at the first 4 mens olympic tournaments, the results were roughly similar to what we see now. In fact, they were more lopsided in that Canada didn't send its best athletes.

    There is a "parity will come" argument to be made here. I'm not sure if it is a good one because that will depend on the approach the Europeans are taking to modernize their game – a matter on which I am ill informed. Assuming they have a plan and it is realistic (seems a logical assumption given their success in other athletic endeavours), then the IOC should make that the basis for their decision to stick with womens hockey.

  2. Why don't we say the same thing about ski jumping and Norwegians ans Kenyans and running? This is euro bull crap, Ok?
    When it doesn't suit them they wanna take the ball away and gooooooooooo Home! Maybe the US and Canada and other countries in the Euro sphere just pull out and let them play with themselve figuretively and literally?

  3. I'll also add that I don't think it helps the women's team much when they're caught drinking beer and smoking cigars on the ice after the game, or that their captain is quoted as saying Rogge should stop bitching about competitiveness and start doing something about it. When your sport is on the line, especially after you've pounded Rogge's European allies into submission game in and game out, a wee bit of humility might be in order. In fact, I thought a wee bit of humility was supposed to be the Canadian way.

    Anyhow, the team did great. I still hope they can continue to do it at the Olympics. There's no greater stage.

    • I'll also add that I don't think it helps the women's team much when they're caught drinking beer and smoking cigars on the ice after the game…
      Just emulating the well-heeled, well-oiled life of an IOC member, I guess.

      …or that their captain is quoted as saying Rogge should stop bitching about competitiveness and start doing something about it.
      Fair point – when dealing with an unelected, unaccountable, and imperious organization, a little forelock tugging goes a long way. Other than that, though, was there anything factually wrong with Wickenheiser's observation?

  4. "will depend on the approach the Europeans are taking to modernize their game – a matter on which I am ill informed"

    This is exactly what I was thinking while reading Cosh's post. It all depends on European efforts to improve women's hockey within their countries. Has there been any improvement over the past decade or two? I have no idea.

  5. Apparently there has been. The problem is that, for every step they take forward, the Canadians and Americans take two more.

  6. You're comparing apples and oranges. Most sports have teams that dominate. But they also generally have a number of other teams that are breathing down their necks. That's just not the case with women's hockey. Having only two teams that have any chance of winning has become a terrible narrative for the sport.

  7. There's one big problem with this analysis. The Olympics have become an extremely slick and polished marketing machine. Almost a century ago, sports could afford to stink up the joint until they got their act together. Not many noticed. That's no longer the case.

  8. "The problem is that, for every step they take forward, the Canadians and Americans take two more."

    No doubt. Women's hockey has become really important here and in America, hasn't it. My young niece is just getting started in hockey and I was impressed with league's set up. Girls hockey now seems to attract more girls than just the tomboys and that will expand the talent pool.

  9. There might be a larger phenomenon at play, too. In Canada, hockey is religion. So, women will get support. In the States, there's big funding for women's sports. Their "Title IX" has been a contributing factor. I remember big soccer tournaments growing up and the womens teams from the States would always kick butt. In Europe, it's different. I just don't think they have the desire to equalize traditionally male dominated sports like we do here. Tretiak said as much recently about his native Russia.

  10. I'm not arguing for the removal of any sports, but competitive or not, hockey played by almost anyone still makes for better TV viewing than most of the winter Olympic events, and surely that is also a consideration.

  11. "I just don't think they have the desire to equalize traditionally male dominated sports like we do here."

    I agree with your comments. I don't understand why this is true because European countries, particularly the Nordic countries, are all about equalizing male/female. You would think sport would be one the things they focused on.

  12. The issue for me is that great hockey nations like Russia should be ashamed that they don't have better women's hockey teams. The women of these countries should have access to the kind of development that Canadian and American women do – ask those teams that get pummeled by Canada and the US if they'd rather not be there. If those countries need to be shamed into it I'm fine with that, and there's no shame like losing in the Olympics – look how pissy Russia is getting over losing a freaking figure skating gold. If it takes 70 years to have a gold medal game between Russia and the Czechs, fine. Those Canada-US matches will remain as entertaining as the 200 alpine skiing and 300 speed skating events combined.

  13. The long-term survival of women's hockey at the Olympics is clearly dependent on the ability of the Europeans (and China) to become competitive, but in a pretty serious catch-22, the most compelling reason for the Europeans (and Chinese) to strive to become competitive is the possibility of winning an Olympic medal. Maybe the Europeans will be able to close the gap, maybe not, but if women's hockey isn't in the Olympics, will they even bother to try?

    If it continues to be an Olympic sport, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Chinese, at least, came to the 2014 Games with a pretty competitive team (look at curling) but whether the Czechs, and the Swedes and the Russians etc. will step their game up is another question.

  14. This is the 4th Olympics with women's hockey. Two countries have won the gold and, according to a recent article in the Globe, the winning teams in the tournament won by an average of 5.9 goals per game. Pretty lopsided. Even beyond Canada and the US there is a great gap between the middling also-rans and the really bad also-rans.


    After the first 4 Olympics with men's hockey, only one team had won gold, Canada, and the winning teams had won by a margin of 9+ goals, so it was even more lopsided and the tiers of teams even more gapping.

    This sport will develop and become more competitive very quickly for two reason, I think. First, with the real serious growth and improvement of men's professional hockey leagues in Europe, more general interest in top talent hockey will grow for kids of both genders as it did here. Second, without a professional league like the NHL, the training and talent bar for women is, with respect, much lower and easier to catch up.

    Also, women's hockey makes money I think. Women's ski jumping does not.

  15. Exactly, and how else to demonstrate that except by kicking their asses?

  16. No one would bar a woman from competing in the men's competitions if she were good enough.

    Is this true? Are olympic men's events open to women and they just choose not to compete?

  17. The difference in your analogy between Women's Hockey and Baseball is that for Women's Hockey the Olympics is the highest level of achievment for the sport whereas for Baseball obviously the Major Leagues provides that.

    And yet the World Baseball Classic – not the World Series – has provided an outlet for the professionels to copmpete against one another beyond the Olympics – and Japan not the Americans – has one both times. This shows just how widespread and competative the sport is.

    I believe that if Women's Hockey were not included in the Olympics then it would shrink to be just Canada and the United States – with perhaps women in Scandinavian countries trying to hold on gamely.

    Baseball could survive without the Olympics. Women's Hockey beyond North America? Probably not.

  18. I think it would speak volumes about Russian society and mores if they did not start working from now to field a competative Women's Hockey team for Sochi in 2014 (should the sport survive until then).

  19. The Europeans are way ahead of the curve in supporting women's soccer. The Swedes, Norwegians, Germans have all been very powerful at times.

    I suspect they Nordic and central European nations will support womens hockey as long as the people running the game in the respective countries are competent.

  20. I was sort of with you until I got to the "product of a monarchical culture" and "can't see past the shinies" bit.

    Please – I think most of us are not quite that superficial. I imagine most of us have been players at some level, have encouraged, supported and perhaps coached our children to play at many levels (and I've been quite delighted to see my children play at a house league level, and enjoy it immensely).

    There is a lot more to the Canadian connection to hockey than can be written off to some subliminal or unconscious connection to the distant past. Or perhaps you were just baiting Andrew Coyne with his monarchist crown on?


  21. I'm not sure how codified it is across both genders, but there's certainly a pretty well established regime the other way, in that men are NOT allowed to compete in women's events, so I'm not sure why it would be different going the other way.

    As long as female athletes are subject to gender tests to ensure that they are really women before they are allowed to compete, I'm not sure I buy the argument that "No one would bar a woman from competing in the men's competitions if she were good enough". There might even be a rule explicitly banning such an occurrence from happening, we just don't see athletes being disqualified for being women as we do very rarely see athletes being disqualified for being men.

  22. The point of barring men from competing in the womens' events is that they would always win. That's why gender tests are done on athletes competing as women. So far as I know, no such test is done on athletes competing as men.

    The whole point of setting up the womens' events was to allow women to compete and have a shot at winning. It's a good thing, but having a competition in which there is no competition defeats the purpose.

  23. When does the IOC take some responsibility for promoting and expanding the access to sports around the globe? They are an unaccountable body that rakes in millions every four years — should they not play a bigger role in building these competitive sports profiles in areas where they are considered fringe?
    Canada and the US can send its teams to train in China, Germany, Belarus, give clinics etc but if there isn't a coordinated effort from inside the specific countries, their sporting bodies and the IOC, I don't see much ground getting made up in the short term.

  24. The comparison with baseball is a bit funny, since in getting rid of (men's) baseball, they also eliminated (women's) fastpitch… So if they get rid of women's ice hockey, will they also get rid of men's?

  25. Well his point is largely built on combining East and West Germany's medal count through their entire separation which is kind of silly… but even in luge's early years there were 4 medal contenders.

    I think the general beef has less to do with who gets the actual medals and more to do with the massively one-sided 18-0, 12-1, 10-1, 13-0, 8-0 type scores that make the preliminary round of the tournament essentially pointless.

  26. "The strongest argument in favour is not the argument that the sport is racing headlong toward some hypothetical future of genuine international competitiveness. It's the argument from gender equity—if we let the men play, the women should be entitled to…"

    If that's the strongest argument then we're in trouble. Women will always be entitled to play if they're good enough to compete, just as the men are. No one would bar a woman from competing in the men's sports if she were good enough. The question is whether it's worth having a competition that is barred to men: i.e. a women's-only competition. It is if there's legitimate competition to be had amongst the women, but with hockey that does not seem to be the case.

  27. Drop the event simply because there are two dominant performers in the sport? Sounds great. Now lets cancel the Masters the next time Tiger Woods wins in a route, and heck, that Stanley Cup thingy has been won by Detroit far too many times in the last two decades, lets drop that too.

  28. Good point. I know about women's football and completely forgot. I don't know about rest of Europe but many professional English football teams have girls/women soccer teams up to the age of 16 or 18 I believe.

    I was thinking more of Nordic countries because the other countries don't really have hockey culture or they are former communist countries with just developing economies and have other priorities to spend money on other than girl sport leagues.

  29. If Rogge throws out womens hockey, I could live with that but just because for Rogge the term hockey is reserved for the field type. Ice hockey we definitely want to keep.

    Comparing mens and women's ice hockey… starting in 1964 the Soviets started to win every gold medal in hockey easily. It took a miracle to beat them and then they won 3 or 4 more. All women's hockey needs is a miracle.

    • I don't think your invocation of the Soviet dominance 1964ff is really appropriate. That was much more an issue of non-professionals vs. professionals (i.e., the Soviet players essentially being full-time professional players in all but name and allowed to compete in the Olympics, while the best Canadian players were all playing in the NHL and not allowed to compete).

  30. Biathlon? Biathlon is the only sport in the entire Winter Games that carries on the tradition of the ancient Olympics—athletes competing in contests of military skills.

  31. I'm trying hard to remember the last time Detroit consistently beat everyone else in the division by five goals or more. Or the last time Tiger won a Master's by ten strokes.

    The difference between two good teams and more is that it makes a joke out of a medal position. If there were, say, four good countries, then you'd expect a good fight for every medal. Right now, it almost feels like the gold and silver medallists are not playing the same sport as everyone else.

  32. Well, first, what business is it of Wickenheiser''s is it to speak in any political capacity? What's she done to fix the situation? Oh, it's not her job? Exactly.

    Second, isn't it the responsibility of the individual sports federations to oversee things like competitiveness? I thought it's the job of Rogge and the IOC to say yes or no to what the federations have to offer. And, so far, not much in the way of an entertaining product in women's Olympic hockey.

    In my opinion, instead of drinking beer and mouthing off, maybe women's hockey should be more concerned about, well, the state of women's hockey.

  33. Actually, Colby once tweeted an article about the parallels of biathlon and the Finns in the Winter War, so he's perfectly aware that what we call "ridiculous" makes perfect sense in the Nordic countries.

    • Yes, he did. Still not the same as my point. Biathlon does not merely make sense; it is the only point of resonance between the events of the Winter Games and the ancient Olympics, and should be privileged accordingly. If the Winter Games were reduced from the current roster to just a single sport, biathlon should be that one sport.

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  35. We can get rid of women's hockey in the winter olympics when we get rid of men's basketball in the summer ones.

  36. I think the contrast between the state of the women's game and the men's game is so stark right now because of the incredible quality and competitiveness of the men's hockey tournament that we just witnessed. There were 8 teams in the men's tournament that were legitimate medal threats — the traditional big 6 hockey powers, plus the Swiss and Slovaks. In that respect, the state of women's hockey really does suffer by comparison. I watched several men's games between the so-called lesser-ranked teams (e.g., the quarter-final matches), and they were all good, interesting, competitive games. I really can't argue with the people who say that the women's game is still Canada, the US, and then all those other minnows.

  37. Ah, yes – the women ski jumpers – hadn't heard much from them since that unfortunate incident that called into question the wisdom of sending inexperienced young folk from so-called tourist nations hurtling down ice covered tracks at high speeds.

  38. Whatever happens, keep golf out of the Olympics.
    Unless it's miniature golf.
    I want to see Tiger putt through a windmill into a dragon for a triple bogey.

  39. I see nothing wrong with women holding a hockey stick and pounding each other.

  40. It's just simple as "Women can do what men can".