US & Canada

Tennis great King backs US women's ice hockey team's equal pay stand

Four members of USA Hockey women's team Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The team claim that despite their success, they are less supported than their male equivalents

Tennis legend Billie Jean King has backed the US women's national ice hockey team in their high profile equal pay dispute.

Team USA are due to host the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships later this month.

But the champions say they are boycotting it in an ongoing dispute about getting comparable support as the men's sport.

The hashtag #BeBoldForChange has been used by fans to support the players.

Hailing the team's stand, King, who has long pushed for equality in sport, tweeted: "Being a world class athlete should not be a part time job."

Image caption America's former world no. 1 player shared her support for the boycotting team on Thursday

King, who co-founded the Women's Tennis Association tour and won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, succeeded in her campaign for the US Open to award equal prize money in the men's and women's tournaments in 1973.

'It's 2017'

The US women's ice hockey team have won six of the past eight world championships and achieved medals in every Olympics, including gold in 1998.

They point to the $3.5m (£2.8m) that USA Hockey spends annually on its men's team development program, and say there is no comparable setup for the women.

Several players said USA Hockey has paid players only $1,000 a month during their six-month Olympic residency period. They say they only have contracts in Olympic years and are seeking a deal that covers them during the 3.5 years in between.

They are are being represented by the same law firm who represented the US women's soccer team in an equal pay dispute in 2016.

The boycott threat follows 14 months of failed negotiations between the team's players and USA Hockey.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hilary Knight in action during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

"We're unanimously united as a player pool,'' forward Hilary Knight said.

"We're asking for equitable support and marketing and visibility and promotion in programming but also in some financial support.

"It's 2017 and those things are not unreasonable."

'Hardest decision'

The team have been in a public war of words with USA Hockey, labelling its statement about an increased support offer as "completely misleading and dishonest''.

USA Hockey President Jim Smith said: "USA Hockey's role is not to employ athletes and we will not do so."

The hockey board now say they are trying to field a team without the boycotting players.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Forward Meghan Duggan described the difficulty the players have faced with their decision

Captain Meghan Duggan said it was "one of the hardest decisions we've had to make as a team, I think, in all of our careers.

"Being willing to stand up and sacrifice an opportunity like that - to host a world championship on home soil, to defend a gold medal - I think it just shows how passionate we are and how serious we are.''

Related Topics

More on this story