Ice hockey-U.S. senators back women's team in wage dispute


March 27 (Reuters) - A group of U.S. senators on Monday called on USA Hockey to end a bitter wage dispute with the women's national team and expressed concern about what they described as inequitable treatment of players.

The women's team have said they will boycott the week-long world championships starting on Friday in Michigan unless a deal is reached.

In a letter to USA Hockey Executive Director Dave Ogrean, the 14 senators said they were "disturbed" by reports from the team suggesting they were not being given equitable support.

"We urge you to resolve this dispute quickly to ensure that the USA Women's National Hockey Team receives equitable resources," the senators wrote.

"These elite athletes indeed deserve fairness and respect, and we hope you will be a leader on this issue as women continue to push for equality in athletics."

USA Hockey representatives and lawyers for the players were in Philadelphia on Monday trying to hammer out a deal that would avoid the defending world champion women's team from skipping the world championships.

U.S. Democrats' liberal firebrand, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, was among those who signed a letter saying USA Hockey is required by law to "provide equitable support and encouragement for participation by women where separate programs for male and female athletes are conducted on a national basis."

Women players commit to a fulltime schedule of training and competition, but are paid only $6,000 every four years, and are often expected to purchase their own equipment.

The U.S. women's cause has received wide support with reports that many American National Hockey League players will turn down invitations to participate in the men's world championships in May if a new deal cannot be reached.

Players' unions from across the four main North American professional sports leagues have also offered their support and solidarity for the women's cause.

The U.S. women have won gold at the past three world championships and medalled in every Winter Games since women's ice hockey was added as an Olympic sport in 1998. (Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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