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NWHL faces uncertain future following mass boycott threat

The future of the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) is in real doubt after more than 200 of the world’s top female ice hockey players vowed not to play professionally in North America next season in an attempt to gain better pay and working conditions.

The five-team NWHL is the lone surviving professional league in North America after the Canadian Women’s Hockey League officially folded on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the group of players announced they would sit out the coming season in a dramatic attempt to establish a single, economically viable professional league. Many players are extremely dissatisfied with the current state of the sport and face obstacles such being paid as little as $2,500 a year and paying for their own health insurance.

All eyes are now on the NHL, which has provided financial support to both the CWHL and NWHL but steered clear of throwing its full support behind a women’s league. The NHL said it will further explore the situation privately before determining any next steps.

The NWHL – which had an average attendance of 954 during the 2018-19 season – responded by saying it plans to push forward with its fifth season this October and would offer salary increases and a “50-50 revenue split from league-level sponsorships and media-rights deals”.

But it is unclear if this will make any difference for many players who are unhappy with NWHL salaries – which have been slashed in recent seasons – and working conditions.

“The NWHL has time and time again shown it’s not that long-term, viable option for women in hockey, and it does not showcase the best product of women’s hockey in the entire world,” said Kendall Coyne Schofield, who most recently played for the NWHL’s Minnesota Whitecaps. “There’s a lot of things that go into it…The business model is one of those, the salaries, health insurance, the treatment of the players. There’s a lot of things that make it really tough to be a professional athlete in the NWHL.”

The move comes amid other efforts by women’s teams to be treated and paid equitably. The US women’s soccer team has sued the US Soccer Federation over their wages and treatment.