From Biden cabinet, Walsh hits the ice as head of NHLPA
TORONTO, March 30 (Reuters) - Marty Walsh, new executive director of the NHL Players Association (NHLPA), got a taste of the challenges ahead on Thursday as he stick-handled around LGBTQ+ issues and what a World Cup of Hockey might look like without Russia.
The former union organiser, mayor of Boston and until last month U.S. Labor Secretary in U.S. President Joe Biden's cabinet, Walsh has plenty of negotiation know-how and may need it to deal with a multi-national group of millionaire players and billionaire owners.
"It was clear to me that this opportunity was one I wanted to pursue becoming the executive director allows me to join two passions I have, one is hockey the other it fighting for working people," Walsh told reporters during his first news conference in the role.
"There's a lot of work to be done and I am excited to get started."
Walsh takes over from Donald Fehr who held the job for 12 years but left under a cloud due to the NHLPA's clumsy handling of the sex assault allegations regarding the Chicago Blackhawks' Kyle Beach.
The 55-year-old Bruins supporter will have plenty of time to get up to speed before negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the current deal running through the 2025-26 season.
There are several other issues, however, that will require more immediate attention including a simmering controversy over inclusion.
NHL Pride Night events have been under an unwelcome spotlight in recent months as a handful of players, and even some teams, have objected to participating for reasons that include religious beliefs.
Walsh conceded there was "still work to do there" when it comes to inclusion but agreed with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman that it was an individual player's right to choose which events they want to be associated with.
"I personally support the LGBTQ community and always will," Walsh said. "But it is people's individual right if they want to wear a warmup (rainbow) jersey before the team skate.
"I don't think that the LGBTQ community should feel that NHL hockey players are turning their back on that community the majority of players wore the jersey."
The NHL's ambition of expanding its global footprint and the massive success of the recent World Baseball Classic have increased talk of a World Cup of Hockey in 2025.
Without a best-on-best tournament since the last World Cup in 2016, the league and players have targeted 2025 but plans for a showcase have slowed after sporting sanctions imposed on Russia for invading Ukraine.
"I think it is a little bit to early to talk about who is involved in the tournament and who is not," said Walsh. "We should get the tournament on paper and start the conversation going forward what it will look like."
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