A Violation of Human Rights? Girls getting too much ice time in Newfoundland

Photo from newstimes.com

Photo from newstimes.com

CBC News has reported that a volunteer minor hockey coach in Newfoundland (Stephenville to be exact) has filed a complaint with the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission.  His complaint? That the girls in the area receive an unfair advantage because some of them are able to play in two leagues, the co-ed league and the girls league. First, girls in Newfoundland getting to play more hockey than boys is not a human rights violation.  Rape, murder, war – these are human rights violations.  Discrimination would count as a human rights violation but for Brent Watkins, the Bantam A coach who filed the complaint, the issue is “if we allow more ice time for a female player then they have more advantages than a male player with skill development.”  Welcome to the wonderful world of sports Brent!

In Stephenville, girls who are talented enough to play in the coed (or mixed) league are also allowed to play in the girls league.  Thus Watkins believes that those few girls who play in both leagues receive an unfair advantage of extra ice time, which makes the boys disadvantaged for coed tryouts.  Watkins argues

Sometimes people say we don’t want [girls] there. I picked those [girls]. I want the most skilled players on my team.

That’s not the dispute, the fact that they’re female.  What is the dispute is how people get their skills.

Let’s have a look at a couple of the human rights that may pertain to this “case”.  Article 2 states

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.  Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

In other words, human rights apply to all humans.  Article 24 states “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.”  This is the article that Right to Play was founded upon but nowhere does it state that everyone has the right to equal ice time.  In my opinion, Watkins doesn’t have a skate to stand on if he wants to take this up as a human rights issue.  Is more ice time for girls unfair? Possibly, but according to Watkins this dispute stems from “how people get their skills”.

Watkins says girls who have more time on the ice will have more opportunities to develop their skills and will probably be better players than the boys in Stephenville who only have one league to participate in.  If “how” people get their skills is the issue then he would also have to challenge those who have access to power skating lessons, backyard rinks, additional coaching and those who practice on their own.  Gretzky had a rink in his backyard.  Did that give him an advantage on top of his natural talent? Of course it did.  But I guarantee you that no one said “Wayne has his own rink and therefore has an unfair advantage when it comes to try outs.”  Watkins also acknowledged that girls who are “skilled enough to play in the mixed league are also allowed to play in the girls’ league”, which means that only the most talented girls are in question here.  This, I believe, is the real issue – where do elite female players belong?

Girls/Women who dominate the women’s game commonly find themselves in a liminal space of unwelcomeness.  The girls don’t want to play the Serena Williams and Annika Sorenstams of the world because it becomes humiliating and frustrating.  The boys don’t want to play with them because they don’t “belong” in that space and because losing to a girl is a revocation of one’s man-card.  The dominant girls just want to reach their full potential and play their sport, which usually means playing with the boys.  This is an issue that only elite female athletes deal with. No one has ever said that Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, or Joe Montana were too successful to play in their respective leagues.  And even if one of these gentlemen was bored with their domination they would have no where else to go. Hayley Wickenheiser is a perfect example of that liminal space of unwelcomness.  She received a lukewarm reception playing with the men in Europe and when she returned to Canada to play women’s hockey for the University of Calgary had soft drinks dumped on her head and was boo’ed by spectators.  One student brought a sign to a game that read “If you’re in one of our textbooks, you shouldn’t be in our league.” Is this how we treat one of our most decorated Olympic athletes?

If Watkins believes that he has a case then every girls league in the country should also launch their own human rights complaint because the situation is usually the reverse, boys have more access to ice time and therefore, will have an unfair advantage when it comes to trying out for coed teams.  His solution to the matter is to simply create male and female leagues, no more mixed league.  Shocker.  However, he also says

There would be opportunities for females that were highly skilled to play in the male division if they would like.  But we can’t have a situation whereby we have more ice time and skill development opportunities given to one gender.

Did that make you laugh because it definitely made me chuckle a little.  Sport was designed as a purely male arena and to this day male sports are allocated the bulk of time and skill development.  The simplest option would be to say that girls are only allowed to play in one league, either mixed or girls, but Watkins’ go-to solution I think says it all. I think if the girls are good enough to make the coed league now they would probably still play with the boys team if they separated the leagues all together, and then you would still have the same issue. Extra games definitely helps skill development but if we look at the best in any sport, it’s not usually the number of games one plays but the amount of hours one practices.  It’s the time on the rink that Gretzky spent by himself that made him the best.  It’s the pucks you shoot when no one is looking that make the difference, and this is true of anyone regardless of gender.  I guarantee you those girls in the coed league are putting in their time away from league play.  This issue may require some reorganization by the league but I find it hard to call this a human rights injustice.

About these ads

About courtneyszto
Public sociologist and tempered radical in training. Sports is my life. I recently graduated from the University of Toronto with my Masters in Exercise Science. My Master's thesis focused on corporate social responsibility in professional sports, international development and gender equality. My undergraduate degree is Bachelor of Human Kinetics in Sport Management. I am a Vancouver Canucks fan through and through. I have worked in event management, outdoor education, the golf industry, and coached tennis. Soon to be PhD student.

15 Responses to A Violation of Human Rights? Girls getting too much ice time in Newfoundland

  1. Good post Courtney! There is actually quite a bit of precedent for human rights codes being mobilized (if not always ending up in court) in fights about unequal ice time – though this is the first one I’m aware of in which boys were considered to be discriminated against. I think it is often provincial human rights codes or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that are drawn upon, rather than the UN’s Universal Declaration that you cite. First, there was the Justine Blainey case:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2012/04/17/blainey-broker-charter-hockey.html

    And there have been a few recent disputes in various Canadian municipalities about ice time and/or unequal fees:

    http://www.postcity.com/North-Toronto-Post/January-2010/User-groups-may-have-to-face-off-for-ice-time/

    http://www.theprogress.com/news/162095825.html

    That being said, I think you’re correct that this points to a broader issue: where elite female athletes “fit” in terms of competition. The example you bring up of Wickenheiser is really instructive – she won’t have opportunities to play men’s hockey in Canada, and yet she gets ridiculed and insulted when she plays at the highest level available to her as a student.

    And of course there are lots of instances where there just aren’t the nearly the same resources made available to girls as to boys – often in instances where men control the resources and decision-making processes for the hockey organization – or technicalities like allotting ice time first to teams that had made use of it previously (meaning that new female teams cannot get good ice time because it is already claimed by the longstanding men’s teams).

  2. Pingback: Comments on Commenters « Alvin Ma's Blog

  3. Brent Watkins says:

    This is Brent Watkins, and i like to comment on a few big issues here. There is a mistake in the article from CBC in that it is all females that can participate in the co-ed league and female league. It has nothing to do with skill. They can play in both divisions. I agree with your point that they should have to choose. That is a perfect solution to this. I agree but that is not an option with the Stephenville Minor Hockey Association.

    Also my dispute is who is providing this skill development. It is the same association as the boys, not private lessons, private rinks, etc.. Both genders pay a fee to get services from the same association, yet they get different opportunities based on gender. The females actually get a reduced fee therefore it is discrimination by an organization by gender for services.

    The law that applies in this situation is the NL Human Rights ACT and section 8 stipulates that if there is a special program operating that allows discrimination then that program has to be approved by the NL human rights commission. This has not been done. All I ask is that we develop a great program here that supports the expansion of females in hockey, continues with reducing ice time allocation discriminatory practices but uses the least discriminatory policy as possible to reach these goals. How can we do this?? Follow the law and get the experts to helps us develop this program? This is not an option for the Stephenville Minor Hockey Asscoiation, but no matter what happens here I expect they will have to do this. I have said all along that if we do this then that is all I want. Do you really think I wanted to drag this along this route??

    People that know me understand tht this is not about restricting females in any sport. I have actually developed a female soccer league in Stephenville, took the only female soccer team to a provincial tournmanet in 10 years in our town because they didn’t have the same opportunities as the males.

    I am proud of our association for what they and i have done to help the female sport. We have eliminated the access to prime times for females, they recieve more game slots than any other division, and have their own league, jamborees etc.. Great stuff. I just recently game from a tournament whereby my team played and we had the only girls on our male team out of the five teams, and we have female representation on the bench, unlike any other association. We are doing things right but we have to make sure we are getting it all right. That is why it is required by law to have such programs apporved. Take a look at section 8 of the Act.

    I ask why wouldn’t we want to get this right?? Just follow the law. It is there for a reason, to ensure special programs use the least discriminatory means and cause the least negative affects on the other gender.

    I can provide you with more information if you like. There is a good article in the National Post that explains it better than this CBC one. Wrong information in that.

  4. Pingback: Summer break is looming (news post) | riverroadhockey

  5. courtneyszto says:

    Hi Brent! Thank you very much for taking the time to comment and provide some added context to the situation. I had a look at some more documents regarding the issue and the National Post article that you mentioned. Since you have clarified for us that skill is irrelevant we can leave that issue aside.

    What remains of your current league appears to be an affirmative action type program with the intent of making up for the lack of access to girls hockey across our country, whether it is necessarily relevant to Stephenville or not. You are correct in that Newfoundland, just like BC where I live, requires that any special or affirmative action program must apply to the Human Rights Commission. Therefore, if what you say is true and the league never applied for a co-ed and girls bantam league you probably have a case based purely on protocol. However, where I think you may run into a problem (and why I think it is hard to classify this case as a “human rights” case) is explained by the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport (CAAWS) as such:

    “Most jurisdictions in Canada make provision for “special programs,” also known as affirmative action programs. These programs are intended to prevent or break historic or systemic patterns that have worked to disadvantage certain groups of people. In all cases, these special programs are not considered to contravene anti-discrimination statutes – rather, they are meant to improve opportunities for certain disadvantaged groups by eliminating or reducing the negative effects or impact of the past.”

    I believe that under this premise SMHA absolutely has the right to offer and allow girls to play in multiple leagues. It may not seem “fair” as in equal amounts, but I do believe that the intent behind the coed and girls league is based on equitable treatment in that giving girls more opportunities right now will hopefully lead to them being respected as equals in future, not just in Stephenville, but across Canadian hockey. I certainly understand that it seems like reverse discrimination at this point, and it may very well be unfair for the boys at this stage, but what I think we need to keep in mind is that these “affirmative action” programs are trying to play catch up for circumstances that supersede minor hockey.

    I understand that there are probably very few avenues for you to challenge SMHA and that lodging a human rights complaint is the option with the most impact. If you would like to provide any more information about the situation at hand we would love for you to share it with us.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have no problem with the affirmative action program as we as an association have been working at providing greater opportunties to females as a disadvanatged group but there is much case law that says there are limits that should be done to promote this and the option that causes the least amount of discrimination and adverse affect to the other gender should be considered.
      In any program which is designed to ameliorate the conditions of a disadvantaged group,others will be “disadvantaged” as a result of their non-eligibility for participation. W hat must be avoide d is gross unfairness to o thers. … There must be some room
      left to establish and give effect to priorities amongst disadvantaged groups, provided there is no gross unfairness.

      In this case it has not and the gender it is affecting are also little children so I think there is another morale delimina in that do we punish the opresser in this situation??

      What we are tryig to do here is provide more opportunities not develop the girls more than the boys so the rational for the actions we put in must reach the goal of the program.
      In Stephenville if we are talking about skill development, 50% of the girls registered in the two leagues made their respective AAA teams and only 15% of the boys. The group which puts forth the program must demonstrate the need for the restriction and this has not been done. We are talking about Stephenville as well and I believe we can’t apply one program for all associations. We provide a great program for females here with no resource restrictions, or access restrictions and lots of separate female jamborees, and days etc… The same cannot be said for other areas.

      Affirmative action program that are based on one of the prohibited grounds (gender), there must, , be a rational or logical connection between the prohibited ground and the provision of services under the program; otherwise, the special program instead of relieving discrimination results in discrimination.

      I’m sure you know of a young women by the name of Justine Blainey and her mother that really got the ball rolling on stopping discriminatory practices in male hockey towards females and I have a quote from her in her tribunal in 1986.

      “I used to watch my brother’s games and practices and realized that he was playing twice as often and getting more practices” recalls Blainey. “My practices would be 530am, his would be 1100am. My tournaments would be four hour drives away, his close by….”

      Then shortly after this I got an email from a guy who heard my talk on CBC radio and he said:

      “my son who eats, sleeps, and breathes hockey asked me why his sister got more ice time than him. I tried to answer him honestly but I had to stop myself because I really didn’t know why…”

      The year is now 2012, 26 years has past since the Blainey Tribunal. There have been huge advancements since then but many have been forced upon the male hockey world through other court decisions and rightfully so. I think we still have some difficulties in some areas and we should strive to ensure we are ending the direct and indirect discrimination on the female gender.

      In Stephenville anyways the times that females play is not the issue as my group has had the earliest slot (8am) on Saturdays and we haven’t had any game slots with outside organizations but we have travelled twice to get games with other associations. The females have had games within our association time slots and at our rink. I think we are ending the systemic and individual discrimination towards the female hockey player but we have really gone to far now.

      What are we trying to accomplish here??? I think we are trying to stop the trend of female discrimination in hockey; in resource allocation, ice time, participation, and expertise. There is no arguing that females have been a disadvantaged group in the past and we need a special program but why would we develop a program that makes the male player feel like Blainey did in 1986. It’s happening because it has been said by players. Do we think this same 7-12 year old boy is going to forget about this and not bring that into his thought processes when he grows and is doing things with hockey? We need to develop a program that supports female hockey, provides them with opportunities that grow their game, eliminate access barriers and try to develop adult female role models within our own associations. Not have a program that serves to punish a young male player for what has happened in the past, I think we can accept some of this when it deals with adults but if we are trying to change mind sets for the future I think punishing the youth for this by taking away his ability to play to his full potential or providing greater skill development opportunities for the female on a regular basis and then making them compete for a spot on the same team is not the right steps. We can have separate fun days for females only, special training camps, jamborees, tournaments, etc… but what we have now is going to extend the problem we have been trying to eradicate. That’s my concern with all this.

      I agree with you that this should not be where it is.

    • brent watkins says:

      I have no problem with the affirmative action program as we as an association have been working at providing greater opportunities to females as a disadvantaged group but there is much case law that says there are limits that should be done to promote this and the option that causes the least amount of discrimination and adverse affect to the other gender should be considered. In this case it has not and the gender it is affecting are also little children so I think there is another morale dilemma in that do we punish the oppressor in this situation?? We can use many different options to reach the desired goal such as mandatory female representation on executive, coaching, equal ice time, special female events, etc. First we have to identify what the goal is, it is not sufficient to say they are a disadvantaged group but we must know exactly the disadvantages we are trying to fix and I’m sure they will be different throughout the country. Hockey Canada and Hockey Newfoundland leave this policy development up to the associations.

      What we are trying to do here is provide more opportunities not develop the girls more than the boys so the rational for the actions we put in must reach the goal of the program.
      In Stephenville if we are talking about skill development, 50% of the girls registered in the two leagues made their respective AAA teams and only 15% of the boys. The group which puts forth the program must demonstrate the need for the restriction and this has not been done. We are talking about Stephenville as well and I believe we can’t apply one program for all associations. We provide a great program for females here with no resource restrictions, or access restrictions and lots of separate female jamborees, and days etc… The same cannot be said for other areas.

      Affirmative action programs that are based on one of the prohibited grounds (gender), there must, , be a rational or logical connection between the prohibited ground and the provision of services under the program; otherwise, the special program instead of relieving discrimination results in discrimination.

      I’m sure you know of a young women by the name of Justine Blainey and her mother that really got the ball rolling on stopping discriminatory practices in male hockey towards females and I have a quote from her in her tribunal in 1986.

      “I used to watch my brother’s games and practices and realized that he was playing twice as often and getting more practices” recalls Blainey. “My practices would be 530am, his would be 1100am. My tournaments would be four hour drives away, his close by….”

      I got an email from a guy who heard my talk on CBC radio and he said:

      “my son who eats, sleeps, and breathes hockey asked me why his sister got more ice time than him. I tried to answer him honestly but I had to stop myself because I really didn’t know why…”

      The year is now 2012, 26 years has past since the Blainey Tribunal. There have been huge advancements since then but many have been forced upon the male hockey world through other court decisions and rightfully so. I think we still have some difficulties in some areas and we should strive to ensure we are ending the direct and indirect discrimination on the female gender.

      In Stephenville anyways the times that females play is not the issue as my group has had the earliest slot (8am) on Saturdays and we haven’t had any game slots with outside organizations but we have travelled twice to get games with other associations. The females have had games within our association time slots and at our rink. I think we are ending the systemic and individual discrimination towards the female hockey player but we have really gone to far now.

      We are trying to stop the trend of female discrimination in hockey; in resource allocation, ice time, participation, and expertise. There is no arguing that females have been a disadvantaged group in the past and we need a special program but why would we develop a program that makes the male player feel like Blainey did in 1986. It’s happening because it has been said by players. Do we think this same 7-12 year old boy is going to forget about this and not bring that into his thought processes when he grows and is doing things with hockey? We need to develop a program that supports female hockey, provides them with opportunities that grow their game, eliminate access barriers and try to develop adult female role models within our own associations. Not have a program that serves to punish a young male player for what has happened in the past, I think we can accept this when it deals with adults but if we are trying to change mind sets for the future I think punishing the youth for this by taking away his ability to play to his full potential or providing greater skill development opportunities for the female on a regular basis and then making them compete for a spot on the same team is not the right steps. We can have separate fun days for females only, special training camps, jamborees, tournaments, etc… but what we have now is going to extend the problem we have been trying to eradicate. That’s my concern with all this.

      I agree with you that this should not be where it is.

      • Brent watkins says:

        sorry about the double post but I did not add my name to the first

        • No problem. I have to approve first time commenters – primarily to prevent spam or racist/homophobic comments from being posted – so that’s why your non-IDed second comment didn’t go up right away. You should be fine continuing to comment here without needing approval.

          Thanks for commenting on the story and sharing your side of the story, Brent. It is great if this blog can serve as a space to debate issues relating to hockey and to share and learn from different viewpoints.

          • Brent watkins says:

            Yes certainly. I would love to have the same discussion with the SMHA but unfortunately this has not happened.

      • courtneyszto says:

        I think what is unique about the Stephenville situation is the fact that the genders compete with each other for spots on the same team. If I am understanding this correctly, the girls can play on both girls and coed teams, the boys just on coed, and then they all compete to play on the All-Star team, right? I can certainly understand the tension surrounding this issue.

        Personally, I’m not a fan of affirmative action programs because i think they are, by-and-large, superficial changes to an institutional problem. But, if we were to change the issue to race I think we would find similar situations. For example, universities that provide extra funding/scholarships and hold a certain number of spots for students who are visible minorities. It indirectly, as you have stated, punishes those who are probably not racist and have never had anything to do with slavery or colonization or immigration policies but is an attempt to make amens. As you explain, it creates a problematic situation and is far from a perfect solution making White students feel like they are being punished.

        While I was at the University of Toronto I actually experienced something vaguely similar in that, as a female, I received more opportunities for recreational ice-time than the males. i could go to the women’s only ice-time and the co-ed ice time, and you better believe that i took advantage of this! U of T is one of our more progressive universities with respect to athletic gender policies in Canada so you can believe that this was an intentional move. Is it necessarily fair? Perhaps not, but men’s hockey also had a lot more opportunities elsewhere within the recreational system.

        Good luck Brent! I hope that SMHA can come to an agreeable solution for all. Keep us posted!

        • Brent watkins says:

          What ever is there is going to be used and I don’t blame anyone for that. Like I said I picked the team I have and could of easily picked all boys but considering what I am doing and my general belief in equity and fairness I certainly followed Human Rights law when it comes to gender and skill for picking of a male team.
          One of the big things here is also the individuals you are selecting to discriminate against to right the wrongs, seems to me that the opressor here is not the child.

          Again we have to look at the goal of the special program. I don’t think it is to provide more skill opportunites to the females above the boys but to reduce the discrimination in ice time, resources, and ensure equal opportunities so really this policy doesn’t support the goal. It is not sufficient to declare that the object of a programme is to help a disadvantaged group if in fact the ameliorative remedy is not directed towards the cause of the disadvantage.

          If you were on the executive of the SMHA and at this point you could develop any program you wanted wouldn’t you want to get the help of the human rights specialist who is suppose to approve a program?? Again, that is all I have asked is that they develop an appropriate program and I would withdraw my complaint. To this point they have refused. I just don’t think we are using the lest discriminatory policy that could reach our goal.

          We do agree that girls have been a disadvantaed group in hockey and I support certain measures.

  6. Pingback: Comments on Commenters (Re: Girls Getting Too Much Ice Time in Newfoundland) « Hockey in Society

  7. Pingback: IIHF’s “Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend”: A Chance to Reflect on Barriers and Opportunities for Women in Hockey Culture | Hockey in Society

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s