St. Thomas University sociology professor Kristi Allain had one simple question in reaction to Hockey Canada’s new dressing room policy: “Why?”
Hockey Canada has implemented a new policy for the 2023-24 minor hockey season, including a “minimum attire rule,” with the goal of respecting privacy and making dressing environments more inclusive.
Allain, who has spent years researching masculinity in hockey, wants to know what sparked Hockey Canada to introduce this policy when the sport has much larger issues.
“I think we have to ask serious questions about ‘why?’” said Allain. “If a community, the LGBTQ community, the Muslim community, is asking for this, then we should have it.
“But if these communities have not asked for this, then I think we have to wonder if this is just a distraction from some of the really actual hard, hard changes that are going to need to happen to make hockey a safe place for women, for LGBTQ people, for racialized folks.”
Allain isn’t the only one in the academic community who’s puzzled by Hockey Canada’s decision.
Bruce Kidd, a Canadian Olympian, writer and Professor Emeritus of sport and public policy at the University of Toronto, wonders how Hockey Canada came to the conclusion these policy changes needed to be made.
“Did you have a study? Did you consult? Did you look at whether other jurisdictions are doing (this)?” said Kidd. “I don’t want to say that it’s a solution searching for a problem, but this came as a big surprise to me.”
Hockey Canada did not specifically clarify how this policy came about when asked for comment from The Canadian Press.
“Hockey Canada’s Dressing Room Policy, which will be implemented for the 2023-24 season, was designed to enhance the safety of all participants through proper supervision and minimum attire requirements,” Hockey Canada said in a statement.
“All participants have the right to utilize the dressing room or appropriate and equivalent dressing environment based on their gender identity, religious beliefs, body image concerns, and/or other reasons related to their individual needs.”
The “minimum attire rule” requires that players be wearing a base layer in a dressing room when surrounded by at least one other person.
The policy, which applies to all minor hockey teams sanctioned by Hockey Canada and its member associations, recommends that players arrive at the arena wearing that base layer.
Should a player arrive without it, they’re to get changed in a private area, such as a bathroom stall, before joining the rest of the team in the dressing room and putting on their equipment.
Hockey Canada states it’s the responsibility of coaches and team staff to ensure players follow the policy.
As part of the policy, Hockey Canada is also introducing a “rule of two,” requiring two trained and screened adults to be present in or directly outside (with an open door) the dressing room at once “to ensure it is free of any discrimination, harassment, bullying, or other forms of maltreatment.”
The new policy also outlines recommended best practices for the use of showers, where players must wear minimum attire in open-concept scenarios, such as swimwear. It also prohibits violent activities and videos, still photos or recordings of any kind in dressing environments.
Kidd remembers from his days as a University of Toronto athletic director that there were increasing calls for private showers and dressing rooms when the school was undergoing renovations, but that was 20-some years ago.
Allain says the “minimum attire” issue is not something she’s come across in her 20 years of research.
“I’ve heard lots of concerns from lots of people, but this is actually not one of them,” she said. “I was surprised.”
Allain lists racism, homophobia, sexual violence and the physical trauma people can experience after years of playing hockey as examples of problems in hockey. She also points out the lack of accessibility to the sport for working-class families in Canada.
“There are lots of complaints about hockey and its lack of inclusion,” she said. “Hockey Canada needs to be making true efforts to increase diversity in the game, to be an inclusive game, to be a sport that’s not linked to violence. There are lots of places where they need to make changes. Every day we hear stories about how hockey is failing.
“I was surprised that this is the issue they’re going to tackle first and I’d like to know what precipitated this.”
Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press