Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty

The U.S. women’s hockey team is threatening to boycott the IIHF World Championships, starting March 31, unless USA Hockey increases wages, benefits, and support for the women’s game.

“We are asking for a living wage and for USA Hockey to fully support its programs for women and girls and stop treating us like an afterthought,” captain Meghan Duggan said, according to a statement from the players’ lawyers. “We have represented our country with dignity and deserve to be treated with fairness and respect.”

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The defending world championship team was scheduled to report to training camp on March 21, but told USA Hockey Wednesday they wouldn’t participate unless progress was made in contract negotiations to ensure better pay and treatment.

U.S. women’s hockey player Hilary Knight tweeted the players’ statement.

USA Hockey responded with a statement of its own defending its financing of the women’s team. Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey, said, “We acknowledge the players’ concerns and have proactively increased our level of direct support to the Women’s National Team as we prepare for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.” The statement continued:

The support USA Hockey is implementing in order to prepare the Women’s National Team for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games includes a six-month training camp, additional support stipends and incentives for medals that could result in each player receiving nearly $85,000 in cash over the Olympic training and performance period. The sum is in addition to a housing allowance, travel allowances, meal expenses, medical and disability insurance and the infrastructure that includes elite-level support staff to train and prepare the players.

USA Hockey has a long-standing commitment to the support, advancement and growth of girls and women’s hockey and any claims to the contrary are unfounded.

The U.S. women’s team countered with another statement, dismissing the federation’s pledge of support:

The statement issued by USA Hockey today in response to our decision to sit out the World Championships is misleading. It suggests that USA Hockey is prepared to pay the players $85,000 during the Olympic year. That is simply not true and no such offer was ever extended. In its public statement, USA Hockey has coupled their contributions with payments made by the U.S. Olympic Committee, which pays gold medal-winning athletes more than $60,000. Further, it covers only the Olympic period and does not offer anything for each of the other three years during which a World Championship is played. Lastly, it does nothing to address the marketing and training support that is not on par with what it provides to the mens’ and boys’ teams.

As it stands, USA Hockey pays women’s team players “$1,000 per month during the six-month Olympic residency period,” but does not provide compensation during the rest of the four-year cycle, though the players are still expected to train, the statement from the players’ lawyers said. It also noted that about half of the players have other jobs.

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“It is a full-time job and to not get paid is a financial burden and stress on players obviously. That is the conversation my husband and I are having right now,” player Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson said, according to ESPNW. “Is playing going to be more stress than we can handle? Sadly it becomes a decision between chasing your dream or giving in to the reality of the financial burden.”

The women’s hockey team’s decision to boycott comes amid continuing contract conflicts between the U.S. women’s soccer team and U.S. Soccer. The USWNT has floated the idea of a strike before, notably before the 2016 Olympics, though they ultimately decided not to boycott. Their contract talks are ongoing.