Letter: Paying WHLers minimum wage addressed by Commissioner

"Western Hockey League players are not employees but rather amateur athletes who receive a world class player experience…"

To the editor:

On Saturday, Oct. 22, 2016, a column by Ian Mulgrew, The Face of Major Junior Hockey’s Class-Action Lawsuit, [Vancouver Sun] appeared in a number of publications throughout Western Canada. Had the Western Hockey League (WHL) been contacted for comment, we would have been pleased to provide our position and the information regarding our player experience.

The Western Hockey League and our 22 member clubs take great pride in offering a world class player experience for our players. It has been well-documented for many years that the WHL is a world leader in the area of skill development by providing the highest calibre of coaching and training facilities available to amateur hockey players. The WHL also offers our players one of the most comprehensive education and post-secondary scholarship programs in North America. What many fail to realize, however, is that our commitment to our players and their families goes much further.

WHL Clubs cover all the necessary expenses needed to compete at the highest level of the Canadian amateur hockey system — including top-of-the-line equipment, room and board, and travel costs. Parents of minor hockey players understand the value of this alone, but we are also committed to supporting our players whether they continue their hockey career at the professional level or take advantage of our fully-guaranteed WHL Scholarship which provides one year of tuition, textbooks and compulsory fees at a post-secondary institution of their choice for each season played in the WHL. This year the WHL will award over 350 post-secondary scholarships representing an investment by WHL Clubs in excess of $2 million and activation rates continue to increase each year. Since the WHL Scholarship program was introduced in 1993, over 5,850 scholarships have been issued to graduate WHL players.

Furthermore, the WHL offers a host of educational and mentorship programs within the WHL Players First program which touches on many issues such as bullying, mental health and leadership along with extensive health and safety initiatives. In addition, WHL players receive out-of-pocket reimbursement to assist with any additional expenses incurred.

Recent reports have grossly overstated WHL club revenues and franchise values. The majority of WHL Clubs either breakeven or lose money on an annual basis and we commend our WHL Clubs for their commitment to preserving the benefits provided to our players despite the challenges they face. Any change to the status of our players as amateur athletes would result in our clubs having to adjust the benefits currently offered to players. For instance, if our WHL Clubs were required to provide minimum wage in addition to the benefits the players currently receive, the majority of our teams would not be in a position to continue operating.

It is important to note that WHL players are registered amateur hockey players in the Canadian amateur hockey system. Any change to the status of our players as amateur athletes would seriously jeopardize other amateur hockey organizations as we know it today, including other junior hockey leagues, along with many other amateur sports and amateur athletes across the country.
The clarification to the British Columbia Employment Standards Regulations last February has similarly been adopted in the provinces of Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia as well as the State of Washington. The province of Quebec has announced they are moving forward with a similar clarification.
This is an important step and will allow players who play in the WHL or those prospects who aspire to play in the world’s top major junior hockey league the opportunity to continue pursuing their academic and hockey goals.

We commend the leadership shown by the Government of British Columbia in making the clarification to the regulations and believe it supports our position that Western Hockey League players are not employees but rather are amateur athletes who receive a world class player experience at the highest level in the Canadian amateur hockey system.

Ron Robison, WHL Commissioner