The U.S. women's hockey team defeated Canada on Wednesday night, bringing home the country's first Olympic gold medal in the event since 1998, the same year women's hockey became an Olympic sport. As the players revel in their victory, it's noteworthy that it comes nearly a year after another important win by the team. In March 2017, the players boycotted the International Ice Hockey Federation world championship, seeking equal treatment — not necessarily equal pay — with the U.S. men's hockey team.
What started as one team's plan to stand up for themselves has morphed into an international bellwether for fairer treatment of female athletes everywhere. In April 2017, the U.S. women's soccer team staged a similar boycott after winning the World Cup, also reaching a five-year agreement for better pay and bonuses.
The U.S. women's hockey players aren't just world-class athletes, they're world-class negotiators and role models, too. Here's what we know about their 2017 boycott:
Why did the U.S Women’s Hockey Team start a boycott?
In March 2017, the U.S women's hockey team announced they were going to boycott the International Ice Hockey Federation world championship, after negotiations with USA Hockey for support equal to the men's team came to a standstill.
At the time, the women were ranked No.1 in the world, with three world championships under their belt. But they were barely being paid a living wage, the New York Times reported.
The women were tired of suffering indignities like having to travel in coach while the men's team flew business class, having to share rooms other teammates while the men got singles, and not being allowed to bring guests when competing in world championship games while the men could — and had their transportation costs covered. The women also didn't have their disability insurance covered, according to CNN Money.
What were they asking for?
The female athletes weren’t asking for equal salaries to the male hockey players, some of whom also enjoy access to the National Hockey League’s six- and seven-figure salaries. (Although they did request $68,000 annually.) But they did want the same investments the men’s program received, such as more resources devoted to marketing for the team and development programs for younger girls playing hockey.
As TIME previously reported, the fight for equality was more about fair and equal treatment than the money.
Did they get what they wanted prior to the 2018 Olympics?
After more than a year of negotiations and announcing their plan for the boycott, USA Hockey finally agreed to a four-year contract honoring many of the athletes' requests.
The U.S women's hockey team succeeded in getting most of their demands, though many people are saying this is only the beginning of the fight for equal treatment of female athletes.
While the exact details of the agreement reached haven't been disclosed, CNN Money reported that team member Jocelyne Lamoureux said, "We got what we thought was fair and what they were providing for the men. We're really proud of that and we're really happy with the agreement we came to with USA Hockey."
Some of the concessions USA Hockey agreed to are:
- Travel and insurance provisions equal to what their counterparts on the men’s national team receive,
- A pool of prize money to be split each year,
- Each player will be guaranteed a $2,000 training stipend per month from the United States Olympic Committee (which doubles the previous stipend of just $1,000), and
- Larger performance bonuses for winning medals.
It took the U.S. women's hockey team more than a year to achieve their goal, but just like beating Canada Wednesday, they got the job done. They persisted.