As the Winter Olympics rumbles on, many in the UK, like everywhere else in the world, have been glued to the coverage of hockey-and amongst them many more are discovering the wonders of women’s hockey, and being seduced into looking at hockey in a new way by the skill, speed and passion of players like the US’s Amanda Kessel, the deadly scoring of Canada’s Meghan Agosta and the sheer bloody magnificence of Finland’s incomparable netminder Noora Raty.
Women’s hockey at the top level is one of the sports best-kept secrets. Blighted in the past by a perceived lack of competitiveness (it’s dominated, as one would expect, by the US and Canada, although European nations are slowly closing the gap year-on-year) and plain old-fashioned sexist views, it’s struggled to gain an audience in a male-dominated sport. Even at these Olympics, some are saying that women’s hockey “doesn’t deserve” its place.
Those views, sadly, were echoed last night in Britain by prominent UK hockey voice Dave Simms, who roused the ire of…well, just about everybody by telling the UK hockey world world that “women’s hockey doesn’t count”, before deciding to respond to the storm by comparing Olympic women’s hockey to rec hockey and saying he’d prefer to concentrate on Britain producing (presumably male) professionals.
Predictably, the response on Twitter was both instant and hilarious. Firstly, Finland goalie, Olympian and possibly best female player in the world Noora Raty came up with this stinging putdown, after being asked what she thought by Bristol Pitbulls player and proud Finn Janne Virtanen:
This was then followed by an absolute masterpiece of quiet fury from Canada’s “First Lady of the EIHL” Ashley March, which you can read here.
Dave Simms often tells people that as a (now former) TV pundit and “voice of the sport” he knows more than us in the UK. Indeed, he makes a big thing of “educating” fans. So, in the spirit of the thing, Chasing Dragons thought we’d educate him on why the views he and those of his ilk holds are spectacularly wrong, both for women’s hockey in general and, more importantly, that in the UK.
Let’s start with Olympic hockey. And indeed with Noora Raty herself-a 24-year-old who currently holds all sorts of records, including gaining 17 shutouts in 38 games and finishing a season with a GAA of less than one (0.96) in her final NCAA season. (for comparison, the best GAA in the EIHL this season is 2.31).
Then, of course, she can do things like this…
For those of you (remaining nameless) who may not be sure what you’re watching-as excellent women’s hockey blog The Pink Puck points out in this superb profile of Raty, this save is effectively not one, but two-Raty’s taken the fake and is expecting a shot high glove-side, yet STILL has enough control over her body while sliding to make a pad save on the opposite side. SHE’S LOOKING THE WRONG WAY AS SHE STOPS IT. That is an ability most NHL goalies would kill for, never mind those in the UK leagues. And this is the kind of thing she does all the time.
(oh, by the way, Dave and others of your ilk, Raty is without a club next year. Tell me you wouldn’t want a goalie who can make saves like that in net for you because “her saves don’t count because girls are shooting” and I’ll tell you you’re lying).
Combine that with the incredible skill being shown by the likes of Kessel, Agosta and Swiss goalie Florence Schelling to name but three, and watch the footage of the several USA/Canada bench brawls over the past few months, and tomorrow’s gold-medal and bronze-medal games are appointment viewing. Then remember they’re doing this on no money, even in the “pro leagues” in North America, despite training just as hard as the “male pros” Simms so desperately wants to develop.
Speaking of appointments-Britain will have a representative at tomorrow’s Olympic final. Joy Johnston, a British official who has spent many years officiating as both linesman and referee in the British league as well as women’s world championships, has been given the honour of holding the whistle for the Olympic final. In the world of officiating, you probably can’t get any higher. This is a tremendous tribute to Joy and her work. But apparently, because it’s women’s hockey, the achievement of a British official who has worked incredibly hard in her spare time for years to become the best of her kind in the world “doesn’t count”, according to Dave and those who share his view. That’s more than just uneducated-it’s insulting.
But there’s more, Dave. I’ve not even begun. Let’s talk about British hockey, shall we-that hockey you claim to be so educated on?
Currently, the IIHF rankings have British women ranked four places higher than the men (18 as opposed to 22nd). Despite there being four male players for every girl in the UK, the women are competing only one division below the equivalent men, and in terms of ranking, the women are outperforming the men at every equivalent level.
Over the past six years, the GB senior women have finished higher than the men in their respective World Championship ranking every season-an average of three or four places higher, in fact. Currently, the U18 women are playing in a higher division than their male counterparts.
And they’re doing all of this on even less funding than GB men, training at midnight and travelling all over the country (the GB U18’s train at midnight in Coventry, with many of them making three or four hour trips).
Women’s hockey is neither as glitzy, well-funded or indeed popular as men’s. It faces a constant uphill fight for credibility. Comments like “women’s hockey doesn’t count” from those who are considered influential by many in the UK echo those made by some in North America-they simply show just what a battle it faces for acceptance.
But when you put comments like that up against the sight of Noora Raty stopping all comers in an Olympic tournament, the blinding displays of skill and speed by the likes of US and Canada, and even simple facts like those mentioned above, comments like Simms’ last night are shown up for the outdated, outmoded rubbish they truly are, even in this relatively minor hockey nation. And the response from UK hockey fans last night shows that the fans’ views have been and are continuing to be changed by the incredible spectacle of women’s Olympic hockey.
The women who play hockey deserve to be recognised for the stars they are. And some need to learn that it’s not gender that determines whether a sport “counts”-it’s the effort of the people who play it.
In that respect, as anyone who’s watched a single second of the Olympics will tell Dave Simms and his fellow women’s hockey bashers, the women’s game “counts” for everything.
It’s time to embrace the revolution.