The modern age is a crucial time for women’s para hockey.
The inaugural Para Ice Hockey Women’s World Challenge last week in Green Bay, Wisconsin, was a successful step toward the ultimate goal of competing in the Paralympics, but there is still work to be done to break down barriers.
Although parahockey is technically a mixed sport at the Paralympic level, only three female players have ever competed in the tournament. The sport is governed by the International Paralympic Committee through the World Para Ice Hockey organization, which aims to add a women’s tournament to the Paralympic program for the 2030 Games.
The event provided momentum for the sport’s global development, which is essential for the establishment of a women’s world championship in 2025 – the next target for the Paralympic Games.
“Now they know that there will be a women’s tournament every year where you can compete, with the ultimate goal of realizing a world championship for women. That is necessary to go to the Paralympic Games.” Canadian women’s head coach Tara Chisholm told CBC Sports.
“There are some steps that need to come along the way, but I think having an event planned every year allows new countries to set a timeline and a goal about where they want to go and get there.” instead of just training for training and not really knowing when the next game would be.”
VIEW | Interview with Canadian head coach Tara Chisholm:
World Para Ice Hockey told CBC Sports that the Green Bay tournament has already boosted participation, which is part of their overall strategic plan to move the sport forward.
“While there is still a lot of work to be done, the impact of the event can already be seen in the number of female players licensed to play World Para Ice Hockey, which increased from two in 2021 to 64 in 2022. [54 of them were registered for competition at the Women’s Word Challenge].
Team World, made up of athletes from different countries, will help the sport grow outside of North America. There are currently only three individual countries with women’s teams – not enough for a separate Paralympic women’s tournament.
“Ideally it would be eight countries. We might have six, but the goal is to get eight so we can make sure they are competitive and perform at the highest level,” Chisholm said. “We have a few countries that are now starting to secede after this event, who are already talking about deploying their own individual countries for next season. That’s exactly what we wanted to happen.”
Uneven playing field
Chisholm thinks the current mixed sports format at the Paralympics is only getting in the way of their cause while also creating an illusion of equality.
“We believe with our team that it does more harm than good because it gives people an easy way out to say, ‘If a woman was good enough, she would just be on our list.’ It’s a mixed sport, but there are no women in it, which makes those running the teams an easy way to say that a woman could do it if she wanted to, if she worked hard enough,” Chisholm said.
Norwegians Bri Mjaasund Oejen (Lillehammer 1994) and Lena Schroeder (PyeongChang 2018), and China’s Yu Jing (Beijing 2022) are the only female Paralympic hockey players to date.
Canada’s Alanna Mah and Raphaelle Tousignant have been invited to the national team selection camp in Calgary this week, where they face the daunting task of forming the same team as the men.
“We wouldn’t expect an able-bodied sport to ask a woman to be selected on a men’s team, so why are we doing it in Paralympic sport? I think it’s been a long time since that was a reasonable request, so we something has to change,” Chisholm said.
Female parahockey players in Canada face even more hurdles as the sport is not funded by Hockey Canada. This makes it even more challenging to break into the national Paralympic team.
“These men’s para-teams are starting to push the boundaries of what’s possible in our sport. It’s not to say a woman couldn’t, but the resources a man gets as he progresses through the ranks within our world. different from the resources a woman gets,” Chisholm said.
The lack of financial support not only makes it harder to compete with the men, but also puts Canadian women at a disadvantage against their American counterparts, who won gold at Green Bay with an undefeated record.
Chisholm said the team was forced to cancel camps so players could save enough money to participate in the Women’s World Challenge, adding that they have been holding donations to pay for equipment, free events and travel expenses. The Canadian women’s team is run entirely by volunteers.
“We have 16 incredibly talented women who have already endured their fair share of hardships in life. They don’t have to fight against a sexist and capable system, but they are so the next generation doesn’t have to,” Chisholm wrote on Twitter.