Robbing opportunities

Examining the impact of budget cuts on women’s hockey in Canada

After the women’s hockey team came from behind to win the OUA banner over the Guelph Gryphons on March 4, forward Kelsey Thomson said something that stuck with me. Thomson was asked to comment on the trend of overtimes as each game except one in the OUA playoffs went to extra time.

“It just shows how women’s hockey is becoming so close,” she said. “Any game is anybody’s. It’s whoever is going to outwork their opponent. The talent on each team is pretty equal so it’s whoever wants it more at the end of the day.”

With this in mind, the recent news of the women’s hockey program at Saint Mary’s University (SMU) in Halifax being axed was disappointing. The decision came after school administrators asked the athletics department to trim between five and 10 per cent from its operating budget. The women’s hockey program, which costs $60,000, was the most expensive of the women’s varsity teams according to school officials.

For a varsity team, their significance and relevance is weighed by their athletic success, among other factors. This was not an issue for SMU. The SMU Huskies are a successful program in the Atlantic division, winning a championship last year and back-to-back titles in 2003 and 2004.

Some will make the argument that if it had been any other sport, it wouldn’t have drawn as much support from the public and this is not a bad thing. Hockey is a national tradition and has the most public support from Canadians. Unsurprisingly, outraged students, athletes and residents of Halifax have pushed the Board of Governors to reconsider their decision.

This was also a women’s team. The rallies held, the articles written and the calls of support from players like Cassie Campbell and Hayley Wickenheiser show the commitment of the hockey community for women participating in athletics.

As there are few professional women’s sports leagues, it’s important that women continue to have a place to play the highest level of sports. In Canada, that’s at our universities. It’s important to recognize this unique issue in the cancellation of SMU’s women’s hockey program. It’s necessary for the university and supporters of collegiate sports to protect the opportunity given to female student-athletes to excel in both academics and athletics.

The Queen’s community is aware of the difficulties in funding, facing cuts in academics and budgetary issues causing the delay of building projects. Some think that the funding of varsity sports is frivolous and unnecessary in trying times, but that’s not an argument to be made with this issue.

Not all options had been exhausted. The SMU women’s hockey program is being unfairly punished by the school and the blame is being laid solely on the team rather than the athletics department. All their efforts, their work and their commitment will be wasted if the program is cut.

I was in Waterloo covering the national championship, sitting only a couple rows up from the ice, watching the Gaels celebrate a huge achievement for themselves, their program and our school. The opportunity to watch the group of women celebrate the success of a trying season—and for many veterans on the team, the accumulation of five years of work—should not be taken away from athletes, students or fans.

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