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(ADRIAN WYLD/The Canadian Press)
(ADRIAN WYLD/The Canadian Press)

Adrienne Clarkson

Offside! Women are here to play Add to ...

Letter to Jacques Rogge, president, International Olympic Committee

Dear Mr. Rogge,

As a Canadian women's hockey fan and founder of the Clarkson Cup for women's hockey, I read with dismay and disbelief the report of your remarks after Canada won its third Olympic championship in women's hockey with its 2-0 victory over the U.S. last week. "We cannot continue without improvement," you said. Your musings made us think that women's hockey might no longer be part of the Winter Olympics, that standards aren't high enough, that lopsided scores reflect imbalance.

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Would this mean that women in all the countries that now play our distinctive game will no longer be able to train from childhood with the Olympic dream as their goal? And why is it that women must be excluded until they're not only as good but better than anyone else, especially in the eyes of men?

Women have been playing hockey in Canada since the early 1900s, and they began playing in leagues at least 70 years ago. By 1975, with a lot of hard work and very little help (and virtually none financially), we had a network for women's hockey that worked toward a world tournament that was eventually played in 1987 - even though the women organizing it were told they would never see such a world competition for women's hockey in their lifetime.

By 1990, there was a world championship in Tampere, Finland. But it was not until 1998, at Nagano, Japan, that women's hockey entered the Olympics for the first time. It was a long, hard road but filled with devoted countries such as Switzerland and West Germany that persevered.

For any sport, of course, training must reflect a commitment of the individual countries. And we all know that it's just as important to have the grassroots as involved as the elite athletes. You need both to succeed and to eventually compete at the highest level. There can't be excellent training in each country without an ultimate goal.

Was there not an "imbalance" when men's hockey began its international ascent? Everyone knows you can't finish on the podium the first or perhaps even the second or third time at the Olympics, but the commitment and encouragement must be there.

We are very proud of our Canadian women's hockey tradition. More and more girls want to play the game, and mature women are joining amateur clubs across Canada. I'm sure this is happening in countries all over the world.

Rather than think there aren't enough good players in the world to warrant a place in the Olympics, should we not be thinking about encouraging and sustaining players in countries that want to participate? We've already had considerable involvement in helping to train other countries' teams. Canada played host to the Chinese women's hockey team from the end of August to the beginning of November when it played 21 games against our teams. They tied one, lost seven and won the rest of the games. The Chinese played in these Olympics and finished seventh.

We should be very proud of our ability to help athletes who want to play better. I know we would be happy to do more. Collegiality defines Canadians. Rather than eliminate women's hockey because only a few countries are serious contenders, I know we'd be happy to share our skills with all who aspire to playing our game.

Having other countries' teams come to Canada to train means they would be able to play more games with more players and train in a different way. The Chinese women, for instance, did not wish to play against men and were very happy to be able to have contests with women in Canada. By helping other countries, we can contribute to better opposition and, therefore, become better players ourselves.

We invented hockey; we can share the dream. And we're not worried about continuing to win.

Adrienne Clarkson is former governor-general of Canada.

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