By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – The women’s world ice hockey championship set for this month in Halifax and Truro, Nova Scotia, has been canceled over concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) said on Saturday.
“Due to the ongoing spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the IIHF Council has agreed today to cancel the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship, following a recommendation by public health experts,” the IIHF said in a statement posted on Twitter.
“Subject to formal approval by the IIHF Congress, the 2020 host cities Halifax and Truro will instead host the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship.”
The 10-team tournament featuring hosts Canada, United States, Japan, Switzerland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Finland, Denmark, Russia and Germany, had been scheduled to run from March 31 to April 10.
It is the second time the women’s event has been canceled due to a global epidemic. The 2003 championship in Beijing was called off due to the SARS outbreak in China.
Canada had 45 confirmed cases on Friday of the coronavirus which emerged in China and has spread to more than 90 nations, killing more than 3,400 people and infecting more than 100,000 worldwide.
The cancellation follows the postponement on Monday of four under-18 men’s tournaments and two women’s world championship events in lower divisions due to the virus.
The IIHF said the decision was made following an extra-ordinary meeting by the IIHF Council on Saturday.
“It is with great regret that we must take this action,” said IIHF President Rene Fasel. “It was not an easy decision to make, as we were greatly looking forward to hosting this tournament in Canada.
“Nevertheless, the decision has been made due to safety concerns for the well-being of players, officials, and spectators.
“Ultimately the IIHF Council feels that there has not been enough of an improvement to the coronavirus situation to allow us to safely host a 10-team international tournament within this time frame.”
Hockey Canada, which last hosted the championships in 2016, said they agreed with the IIHF decision and looked forward to staging the event next year.
“The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has diligently monitored the development and risk of the coronavirus (COVID-19), and under the recommendation of the chief medical officer of health of the Province of Nova Scotia and the IIHF, it was determined the best course of action was to cancel the event,” said Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney.
“This decision was made in the best interest of the players, fans, staff, volunteers and the general public, and we fully support the IIHF’s decision.”
Canada is hosting two other world championships in March, the figure skating worlds in Montreal (March 16-22) and the women’s world curling championships in Prince George, B.C. (March 14-22) and both are going ahead as planned.
The postponement is yet another blow for women’s hockey in North America as it struggles to regain a presence after the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
Many of the top women ice hockey players came together last year to form the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) in an effort to highlight their fight against inequality and promote and advance the establishment of a single women’s professional league with fair wages.
“This has been a very unique and difficult season, and while it has given us the opportunity to prepare for worlds with our mini-camps, this is tremendously disappointing for our athletes, coaches and staff who have been working tirelessly all season,” said Gina Kingsbury, Hockey Canada’s director of women’s national teams.
The cancellation of the ice hockey world championship adds to a growing list of events being suspended in Canada.
Organizers of Collision, a major technology conference scheduled for June in Toronto and expected to draw around 30,000 attendees, said on Friday it would be conducted only by teleconference or online this year.
The men’s ice hockey worlds scheduled for May 8-24 in Switzerland remain on schedule but the IIHF is expected to make a decision on that tournament later next week.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; additional reporting by Gene Cherry; Editing by Clare Fallon)