When we heard about a petition asking the IIHF not to cancel the U18 Women’s World Championship but to postpone it, we wondered who was behind it. So we contacted petitioner Lori Bolliger in Canada, who kindly agreed to give us an interview right away. She not only explains her concern, but also talks about her personal involvement in women’s hockey.
Lori, what is your connection to women’s hockey?
I’m a freelance sports photographer with a passion for hockey. I chose to focus my work on women’s hockey to raise awareness for the sport and help elevate it to a level that will, one day, be a viable career for women. To do that, I’ve photographed at all levels, including the Canadian National Women’s Team, the (now defunct) Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL), the Professional Women’s Players Association (PWHPA), and the Provincial Women’s Hockey League (PWHL).
As a sports photographer, I’ve had the pleasure of working with incredible teams of women at various ages and their dedicated coaches, managers, and supporters. I’ve been given an inside-look at the life of a female hockey player and I’ve seen the incredible commitment and effort they put towards the sport they love.
On a personal level, I’m a big fan of hockey and play in 3 different recreational leagues.
How did you get into women’s hockey?
My journey in women’s hockey began at the age of 10 years old. I played in the only league available for girls, with teammates and opponents as old as 21 just so there would be enough players on each team. At that time, the idea of a professional women’s league was just a dream. We’ve come a long way since then, and I’ve always followed women’s hockey primarily at the National level with Team Canada.
After graduating with an Honours Bachelor of Photography from Sheridan College 3 years ago, I pursued a career in sports photography with an emphasis on women’s hockey. My passion for hockey and my love of photography were a natural fit, and I saw an opportunity to use my photography as a way to help bring attention to women in sport.
How and when did you learn about the cancellation of the U18 Women’s World Championship?
I learned about the cancellation of the U18 Women’s World Championship when it was announced in the news on Christmas Eve by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). I was very upset because the announcement cited “safety issues” as the reason for the cancellation while the Men’s World Juniors were still set to kick off their 10 day championship tournament on December 26th. This is the second year in a row that the Women’s championship has been canceled – not postponed – while the Men’s continues as scheduled (editorial note: the interview took place before the cancellation of the men’s tournament).
I understand that the U18 Women’s was not the only championship that was canceled, but as a significant event and the last opportunity for these women to play at an international level and be seen by national scouts, I was especially moved by the stories of the women that had been sidelined. It would be great to see all of the canceled tournaments rescheduled.
How did you decide to start this petition?
I’ve seen first hand how dedicated these women and girls are to their sport and while I use my photography to support them, I was so upset at the news of the U18 Women’s World Championship cancellation that I wanted to do more.
I was seeing so many prominent people, such as Hayley Wickenheiser and Hilary Knight, speaking out but there was no place for everyone to collect their voices and comments for the IIHF.
So with the help of my daughter, Erika Bolliger, we spent Christmas morning putting the petition together.
She has been instrumental in writing much of the copy and activating social media networks for this petition.
A note from Erika: “Unlike my mom, I didn’t watch any hockey before this. But hearing about the U18 Women’s Championship cancellation struck a chord.” Erika says, “In managing the petition, I’ve been hearing stories of these incredible female hockey players. I’m learning their names and their history. I’m now excited to see them play and would actually watch the U18 tournament! The awareness generated by this petition has made me a fan and I can’t help but wonder how many other new fans would become invested in women’s hockey if it had better coverage and a sustainable league to follow.”
Can you understand IIHF’s decision that all tournaments starting in January will not take place due to the new Omicron variation?
I completely understand the need to prioritize safety. What I, and many others, don’t understand is the decision to cancel the tournament rather than postpone it to a time when safety can be assured. Further, the decision to continue to host the Men’s World Juniors in light of the same safety concerns sends the message of a double standard which I cannot understand, and one which we are seeing play out in real time with games being forfeited due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Every tournament should be held to the same safety standards and every effort should be made to follow through on those tournaments, just as every effort was made to host the Men’s World Juniors. We think it’s important to have the same effort afforded to rescheduling the other tournaments that had already been scheduled. If safety is the concern, the other tournaments should be postponed rather than canceled.
What were the reactions? Did people you didn’t know before contact you?
Yes, the response has been incredible. So many people have reached out via social media expressing their gratitude for speaking out and providing them with a vehicle to share their stories, thoughts, and ideas. Over 3,200 people have added a comment to the petition about why this matters to them. Here is a small sample of their reasons:
- This is the last opportunity for many young female hockey players to compete on an international stage because there is currently no U20 Women’s World Juniors. One suporter wrote, „As a female ice hockey player, I know how many hours of work, dedication, training and practice these women have put in. It is not fair for this opportunity to be stripped away from them yet again…especially for the women who cannot play next year because of age (U18). They deserve better… women’s hockey deserves better.“
- Canceling the tournament for a second year in a row may be preventing two cohorts of women from accessing many of the opportunities that accompany competing at an international level, such as university scholarships, professional offers, and showcasing their talents to Olympic scouts. This was confirmed by a supporter who wrote, „I am a professional women’s hockey GM who has signed or drafted more than 10 players who have played in an IIHF Women’s U18 tournament.“
- Supporting professional women’s hockey matters not just to current players, but to every young player wondering whether they might be able to pursue a career in the sport they love. One parent wrote, „My U12 daughter sees these women as role models, and something to aspire to. What does it teach her when the men can still play and the women can’t?“
Is there already a reaction from the IIHF?
The IIHF posted a response on Dec 28. (https://www.iihf.com/en/news/31418/addressing_tournament_cancellations). In the statement, President of the IIHF, Luc Tardif, did not indicate whether the U18 Women’s World Championship would be rescheduled. Both the OWHA and Hockey USA have offered to host, and apparently there will be discussions regarding the possibility of rescheduling the U18 tournament, as was stated in this SportsNet article: https://t.co/qLQk443cOf
The petition has been signed more than 81,000 times by now. How many signatures did you expect?
To be honest, we didn’t know what to expect. We had initially thought about getting 1,000 signatures. By Boxing Day we were at 10,000. And by December 28th, we passed 70,000.
We’re overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and emotion about women’s hockey and we would be thrilled if it helps to get the U18 Women’s World Championship rescheduled. We also hope that all the young female athletes affected by this decision – personally or emotionally – see every signature on the petition as an indication of support for them and their future.
What will happen with it?
Once we gather as many signatures as possible, we will be sending this petition with all the signatures and heartfelt comments to the IIHF so they have documented proof of the importance of the women’s game.
The petition will continue to run until the IIHF reschedules the U18 Women’s World Championship.
We want to acknowledge all of the efforts going on behind the scenes with organizations such as the OWHA, Hockey USA, Hockey Canada and Open Letters from other National Women’s teams, who are working tirelessly to bring the U18 Women’s Championship to fruition. It is our hope this petition helps to support those efforts, in some small way, by adding a collective voice.
You are very involved in women’s hockey, as we have learned now. What would you wish for the sport beyond a replacement date?
After learning more about the challenges facing women’s hockey through my work and reading the many stories petition supporters have shared, here are a few things I wish for going forward.
- Provide more adequate media coverage before, during, and after the event with high quality footage. Many fans are unhappy with the quality of the coverage, not the gender of the players. Let’s recall that a few years ago the Men’s World Juniors were not popular until the tournament was promoted and treated professionally – with excellent coverage, generating hype beforehand, backgrounds on the players, and professional commentary. Fans want the same investment in the coverage of the U18 Women’s Championship.It’s been shown that when women’s hockey is treated professionally, fans will watch! For example, the 2018 US vs Canada Women’s Olympic Hockey game attracted 2.89 million viewers on NBCSN, and 3.7 million across all platforms, according to Sports Watch Media: “Not counting the Stanley Cup Final, the combined audience exceeds all-but-one NHL playoff game last year.”
- Beyond investing in coverage, we need to invest in the players and teams. They need adequate training equipment, coaching, and time on the ice. They need salaries they can live on so they can put in the time and energy to continue to raise the caliber of the sport while having the time to rest and recharge – as all professional athletes need.I’ve seen players get off their full time job on a Friday, drive 5 hours to their next regular season games, be up in the morning for practice and training, play Saturday and Sunday, get back on the bus and arrive home after 1 AM, and be back to work for Monday morning. This is the experience of many players, who need to have a full time job to support themselves – because currently playing at the highest level of professional women’s hockey is not enough to live off of. As one player wrote in, „For a lot of these women it’s their only chance to play at the international stage because hockey is not a viable career for the majority of us yet. These women are playing for pure love of the game.“
Lori’s petition can be signed here:
Let the puck drop at Women’s U18 World Hockey Championships
She has posted a selection of her women’s hockey photos online. You can find them at
Interview: Tim Sinzenich
All photos © Lori Bolliger Photography