International Ice Hockey Federation

Asterix: The Hockey Way

Asterix: The Hockey Way

First Women’s Worlds and Olympics are landmarks!

Published 25.04.2017 21:12 GMT+2 | Author Lucas Aykroyd
Asterix: The Hockey Way
Like a palace built by Cleopatra, the 1990s Women's Worlds and 1998 Olympic women's ice hockey tournament were huge accomplishments. Photos: Editions Albert René, IIHF Archives
In Asterix and Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen beats the odds to build a palace. In women’s hockey, there were monumental achievements in the 1990s!

Leading up to the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, we’re dedicating one article to each day of the tournament, making a tongue-in-cheek comparison between an Asterix comic book and famous aspects of international hockey history.

Today, we take a break from the men’s Worlds to celebrate the huge gains women’s hockey made with the creation of the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in 1990 and the first Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament in 1998.

Sadly, prior to those years, the attitude toward women’s hockey was often as patronizing and prejudiced as Julius Caesar’s comic-book reaction to Cleopatra’s bet that her people can erect a palace for him in three months: “You have to face facts, O Queen! Yours is a decadent nation, only fit to live in semi-slavery under the Romans!”

It’s good that female hockey players have a history of not taking no for an answer. As the 2007 book World of Hockey: Celebrating a Century of the IIHF points out: “Ever since women started to play the game in the late 1800s, the sport has battled to earn respect.”

The late 1980s saw more progress. An unofficial World Championship took place in Toronto in 1987. Then, in a sort of parallel to Cleopatra’s enlisting Asterix and Obelix to help build her palace, IIHF president Gunther Sabetzki stepped in to assist after attending the inaugural European Women’s Championship in West Germany in 1989. The IIHF Congress approved the first official Women’s Worlds in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, in 1990. The hosts famously earned gold with a 5-2 win over the Americans – while wearing pink uniforms!

However, even though the International Olympic Committee (IOC) approved the inclusion of women’s hockey in the Winter Games as early as the summer of 1992, it was still a long road to the biggest stage in international sports.

For instance, women’s hockey wasn’t included in the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. The Globe and Mail’s Mary Jollimore reported on 21 September: “The International Ice Hockey Federation and the Norwegian Hockey Federation stepped in, offering to pay most of the costs for six women’s teams at Lillehammer.” But it was still no go. Reading such reports, some must have felt like Cleopatra’s taster after biting into a poisoned cake!

When women’s hockey finally made its Olympic debut in Nagano, Japan in 1998, it was as thrilling as you can imagine. The U.S. stunned favoured Canada in the final, riding a three-point Sandra Whyte outing to a 3-1 victory. (Happily, nobody from Hockey Canada was thrown to the crocodiles. The Canadians would then capture the next four Olympic women’s gold medals.)

Just as Cleopatra wins her bet with Caesar, Nagano was a triumph for women’s hockey!

Amazingly, one female player from Nagano is still active. Finnish legend Riikka Valila led the Olympic scoring race with 12 points as Finland took the bronze. This IIHF Hall of Famer retired after the 2002-03 season but made her comeback in 2013-14. At age 43, the crafty forward represented Finland again at the 2017 Women’s Worlds. This arguably makes Valila the Cleopatra of Finnish women’s hockey!

There’s still much work to be done, but hockey players and fans worldwide – both male and female – can be happy that women’s hockey is on the upswing!

This is a 17-part series prior to the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, of which Asterix and Obelix are the official mascots. Click on News to find the stories.


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