Professional female hockey players passed the last major hurdle on Sunday by unanimously ratifying a collective bargaining agreement and a constitution, a person with direct knowledge of the vote told The Associated Press.

This person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) has not announced the results of the vote of its 97 members. The ratification effectively paves the way for the launch of the new league, which will bring together the best female players from North America, with the possibility of also attracting the best from Europe and Asia.

The employment contract is valid until 2031, and having one in place before the league begins operations is a first for women’s professional sports in North America. The WNBA’s labor contract was ratified in 1999, a year after the league launched, and the NWSL only got its first labor contract last year, ten years after its inception.

The vote ends a three-day wait that began when Los Angeles Dodgers president Mark Walter, one of the backers of the new hockey league, eliminated competition by buying the Premier Hockey Federation, a rival league with seven teams.

All that remains is to determine the name of the league and the location of its six teams – three in the United States and three in Canada. Next, the teams will start recruiting their staff, followed by a draw and recruiting period to put together the roster of 23 players from each franchise.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our group of players who have really pulled together and been united through this process,” PWHPA board member and player Sarah Nurse said Friday. Canada’s national team.

“We really understood our value and our will never faded,” she added. Looking at what we are accomplishing with our employment contract, which is paramount to us, it is a great moment. And I know that in the long run, our sport will be better for it. »

While the new league is open to all players, voting was limited to PWHPA members who have spent the past three months negotiating the deal with investors the Mark Walter Group and Billie Jean King Enterprises.

Brant Feldman, a players’ agent who represents many members of the national team, released a statement in which he welcomed the ratification of the agreement, calling it “groundbreaking for women’s sport”.

“It’s a credit to the Mark Walter Group and BJK Enterprises to make it clear that this is a business and to establish a mutually beneficial relationship with the players from the start, rather than trying to build a collective bargaining agreement on the fly after the teething troubles have already started,” Feldman added.

A high-profile group of PHF players sent a unifying message earlier today Sunday saying they were ready to join forces, even if it came at the expense of their league.

“Today, all women’s hockey players stand united, stronger than ever, at the dawn of this new era,” the statement read. As we embark on forming a new league, we bring the power and infrastructure we fought to build. We are very excited to see a unified league that will welcome all the best athletes hockey has to offer and we aim to build the strongest league that can stand the test of time. »

The statement was released by 11 players who have formed a PHF Steering Committee, including at least one representative from each of the league’s seven franchises. Committee members include Boston Price captain Jillian Dempsey, who holds the PHF record for goals, points and games played, Kacey Bellamy, Connecticut Whale, former U.S. Olympian and former member of the PWHPA, and Ann-Sophie Bettez of La Force de Montreal, who played on Canada’s national team and is also a former member of the PWHPA.

News of the purchase reignited a familiar narrative about the supposed rift between the two sides, which the PHF players wanted to dispel.

“We seek to move away from the divisive discourse that has too often marred the many great accomplishments of professional women’s hockey and come together to collectively create the future of hockey,” the players wrote.

This development realizes the vision of the PWHPA, which wishes to have a majority stake in a league with a sustainable economic model and fair wages for players.

Equally important, the new league finally clarifies what has been a confusing North American landscape for women’s hockey, divided into two factions over the best long-term approach. The division dates back to 2015, when the four-team National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) – later renamed PHF – was founded as the continent’s first professional league to pay salaries to female hockey players.

The PWHPA is made up of a majority of players from the United States and Canada national teams and was formed in 2019 following the financial collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.

The group declined to join the NWHL due to philosophical differences over its investor-dependent start-up business model, as well as the lack of healthcare benefits and dedicated facilities. Financial stability concerns have also been raised, including after the NWHL was forced to halve player salaries a month into its second season to avoid bankruptcy.

Changing its name to the PHF, the league eventually decided to use private owners, provide benefits and increase salaries. A $25 million commitment from the PHF Board of Directors has seen each team’s salary cap rise from $350,000 for the 2021-22 season to $750,000 last season and double this amount for the coming year.

“Over the past two years, we’ve been told, ‘You just have to go play over there,'” Nurse said, referring to the PHF. Our players did not want to settle for what already existed. And, of course, we did what we wanted. We kept moving forward. »

The PHF players thanked the PWHPA members and those who played a key role in their league.

“We are happy to be entering an environment where there is a union and a contract of employment that establishes a roadmap on which we can continue to build,” they added. Although this is the end of PHF as we know it, this evolution will never erase the tireless and thankless work of our athletes. We started and we didn’t finish. We look forward, together. »