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.