Tuesday, June 20, 2006

CANOE — CNEWS - Canada: Twin Winnipeg girls fight for right to play on boys high school hockey team

CANOE — CNEWS - Canada: Twin Winnipeg girls fight for right to play on boys high school hockey team

This is an interesting story from Manitoba today. The central issue is really about how you select players for a hockey team, and there’s a secondary question about whether school athletics are perhaps different from community athletics.

The point of the girls seems a fair one … their skill level is high enough to play on the school’s most elite squad, and its not their problem that team happens to be called the “boys” team. That they be excluded from playing on that team based on their gender is a CLEAR case of sex discrimination, and its very hard to argue otherwise. Especially given that the motto of sport has ALWAYS been ‘faster, higher, stronger’ to exclude those who qualify on those grounds, based on sex, seems clearly offside to me.

Arguments from the other side hardly seem persuasive to me. One of the main arguments against the girls is that they should play on the girls team to help develop girls talent. “You’re more interested in what’s best for you than what’s best for the team,” the opposing lawyer said while cross examining one of the girls, but no one would consider suggesting that a talented boy stay on a lower ranked team to help develop the talent of less talented players … no one begrudges that boy the ambition to be, and to play with, the best players in his age group.

But I do think there is a larger issue here as well, and that is the difference between school athletics and community athletics. In the community sphere, athletics is a ruthless place where the best rise to the top and the rest are discarded … 99% of boys playing midget and bantam and pee-wee hockey in Canada will find that out, as 1% or less actually rise to the top. There is certainly an argument that perhaps school athletics can and should serve a different need than that of strict competitiveness, being more inclusive and teaching sport as a lifestyle feature instead of a competitive endeavor.

One key factor for me, something I don’t know about this particular case, is whether the girls are prevented from playing for the top level community team. It sounds like they ARE allowed to play on the boys community teams, but it may bit be as simple as that … if the choice is between playing for a school team OR a community team, then the school may lose out on good hockey players. If the girls are allowed to play on outside teams as well as the school team, then I see no foul with keeping them on the girls team at school to promote girls hockey … the other female players will benefit from the experience they bring from the boys game, IMO. But if its a case of playing for the school team OR a community team, the school should be looking for the best players they can, and prevent quality players from suiting up.

The school needs to decide is their athletics program is about inclusion, or about competitive sports. In this case, the two aren’t compatible, and its an either/or proposition, IMO.


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