POSTED: February 22nd 2010

NEIL WILSON: When women's ice hockey produces the only avalanches

Women's ice hockey: a cause for Olympic concern
Women's ice hockey: a cause for Olympic concern

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN - first of yet another authoritative new series / Sports Features Communications

VANCOUVER, Feb 23: The International Olympic Committee's rules demand that to be included in the Winter Olympic Games a sport should be practised widely in at
least 25 countries in three continents. So how come women are competing in ice hockey in Vancouver?

Well, of course they are not. Or only two countries are - Canada and the United States. The rest are there to make up the numbers.

Canada's women, winners in 2002 and 2006, won their opening game against Slovakia 18-0, an Olympic record. Slovakia had qualified to play in Vancouver by beating Bulgaria 82-0. The Bulgarian goalie must have needed treatment for back-ache. She would have bent to pick the puck from her net more than once a minute for 60 minutes.

That is not competition but the annihilation we expected of exhibition basketball by the Harlem Globetrotters.

The Canadians followed that win by beating the Swiss 10-1, the Norwegians 8-0 and Sweden, the world's third-ranked women's nation, 13-1.

The United States, the second strongest country, meanwhile beat China 12-1 and Russian 13-0. The crowd was so embarrassed that they cheered madly whenever the Russians came close to the American goal.

How will Vladimir Putin feel about his girls being iced like that in Sochi four years hence? A Russian journalist in Vancouver told me that there are only two seriously competitive clubs in her country.

Almost 80 per cent of the world's 55,730 registered players are in North America. In Slovakia there are fewer than 300. Which begs the question which I cannot answer: how many are there in Bulgaria?

Ski jump campaign

Clearly there are not 25 countries in three continents "widely practising" women's ice hockey. Indeed, which is the third continent practising it?

Women in Canada mounted a campaign to have ski jumping added to the Olympic programme in Vancouver. Their claim went all the way to the Supreme Court in British Columbia before being thrown out. A close run thing for the IOC.

Can you imagine the outcry that would follow a woman being seriously injured trying to emulate Eddie the Eagle? The controversy over the death of Georgian Nodar
Kumaritashvili would pale by comparison.

But this is not an argument over dangers to the not-so weaker sex. It is about serious competition. Where there is none the IOC should deny its support.

Its members threw out softball from the summer Olympics for 2012 when its members recognised that only one country was ever going to win gold most of the time. Could it be women's ice hockey's turn next?

NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Neil Wilson · IOC · ice hockey · Vancouver · Winter Olympics

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