Hockey Canada is facing a barrage of criticism from politicians in Quebec and Ottawa over a distinctly Canadian language controversy: Whether players' names should be pronounced with an English or French accent at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
The governing body was blasted by the Premier of Quebec and federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly following reports a Hockey Canada official asked the public-address announcer at the Gangneung hockey arena to pronounce the names of three players using an English inflection. The names of the players – Derek Roy, Rene Bourque and Marc-André Gragnani – were pronounced with a French accent in Canada's opening game. At the second game, announcer Sébastien Goulet was asked to switch his pronunciation and "anglicize" their names, according to a report by the Journal de Montréal out of South Korea.
The uproar left some people scratching their heads, given that Mr. Roy and Mr. Bourque hail from Ontario and Alberta, respectively, and pronounce their own names with an English accent.
Still, some saw the decision as an attempt to impose English on Team Canada.
Provincial and federal politicians piled on Hockey Canada, using terms including "insulting," "ridiculous" and "surreal" to describe the group's move.
"I find this deplorable and ridiculous, especially that it was apparently at the request of Hockey Canada," Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said on Wednesday.
"As francophones, we must object to this, protest very hard. I expect Hockey Canada to quickly rectify the situation."
"This makes no sense … it should have been normal and natural for them to pronounce the names as they are," the Premier said.
Marie Montpetit, the Quebec minister for the protection and promotion of the French language, called it disrespectful.
"It's surreal that in 2018, a Canadian organization issues this kind of directive. It's a lack of respect of the commentators and for the francophone players," she said.
Ms. Joly called the Hockey Canada decision "highly questionable."
"The French fact in the country is extremely important. We always want to protect it, we must always do more," she said in Montreal.
Ms. Joly said her "team is on the case," without providing further details.
Hockey Canada says it bases its decisions about pronunciations on players' preferences.
The group issues guidelines to arena public-address announcers and broadcasters based on how the players themselves pronounce their names. In fact, in a video in which the players introduce themselves, Mr. Roy and Mr. Bourque both say their names as an English-speaker would.
Mr. Gragnani, who is from Montreal, says his name with a French accent.
"We ask the players how to pronounce their names and use that for our pronunciation guide," Lisa Dornan, communications director at Hockey Canada, said in an interview on Wednesday.
"We're striving for accuracy."
In a statement, the organization says pronunciations are sometimes reviewed "when requested or required."
Ms. Dornan declined to say who asked for a change in Pyeongchang or whether it was sought by the players.
She says the names of francophone players from Quebec – Maxim Lapierre, Kevin Poulin and Maxim Noreau – are pronounced with a French accent.
"Hockey Canada is a bilingual organization that represents members from coast-to-coast-to-coast, and is proud to work and offer services in both official languages," the organization said in its statement.
"Hockey Canada respects all players, their background and their culture and makes best efforts to ensure that player names are pronounced as the player desires."
Hockey Canada's statement was not enough to satisfy critics, and there were many.
Among the political class, both the opposition Parti Québécois and Coalition Avenir Québec also derided Hockey Canada.
"They've got to respect the francophones of this country and pronounce the names of our Olympic athletes correctly," said Pascal Bérubé, PQ critic on identity issues.
"The Canadian team should realize it has Québécois athletes, francophone athletes, people proud of their roots and their sense of belonging, who should be respected."
Observers point out that French is one of two official languages of the modern Olympic movement, a legacy of founder Pierre de Coubertin.
Yet, they note that French has been slowly vanishing from the Olympics and the language was nearly invisible at the Rio Summer Games.
Mr. Goulet is an experienced hockey commentator who does play-by-play on TVA Sports in Quebec and has been announcer at several Olympics. He is also back-up announcer at Montreal Canadiens home games.