By Cole Parkinson
The International Ice Hockey Federation has been in the news for the past few weeks for all the wrong reasons.
First, they cancelled the U18 Women’s World Hockey Championship which was slated to be held in Sweden this month. This is the second consecutive year of that tournament being cancelled due to the pandemic. The IIHF has said the decision to cancel all January tournaments was due to a recommendation from the organization’s medical committee. They also said it would not be able to reschedule the tournament because of league commitments within Sweden. The girls weren’t even allowed to step on the ice and it sure seems like they weren’t given many opportunities to get things together in order for the tournament to get started.
Despite that, the IIHF decided to proceed with the World Junior Championships starting on Boxing Day. Cancel one, but allow the other to continue? Doesn’t make much sense, but that’s what they did. But, like they bungled the U18 women’s tournament, they also couldn’t hold the WJC either because a few positive cases on the U.S., Czechia, and Russia teams caused them to completely cancel everything on Dec. 29. The tournament last year went from start to finish in Edmonton, but this year, there was no bubble instituted so players were able to interact with the general public. And this falls on Hockey Canada to some extent, too as they were the host nation. They stated they did their best to adapt and strengthen protocols, but how strict were they when teams reported being in contact with wedding parties? Now, these kids lose the chance to play in a huge tournament in front of thousands and thousands of hockey fans across the world. For some, this would have been the pinnacle of their hockey career — but instead, they’re being sent home. It’s a sad state for everyone — players, coaches, management, officials, and fans.
So why weren’t bubbles instituted in both of these tournaments to keep everyone safe and allow them to get on the ice to play? It truly is mind baffling that we’re this far into the pandemic and these organizations didn’t see this coming. And yes, there were only a few cases, none of which sounded serious as most were asymptomatic. It was pretty obvious with how Omicron has been spreading in the past few weeks that the tournament would go all the way without a positive case, but why not at least try? A bubble would have at least kept the public out of their hotels.
Fans were coming back regardless because of lost revenue, but mandatory masking and vaccination was required to entire, so that was as safe as it was ever going to be. And I really don’t think having half capacity in a huge arena with masks on is much of a safety concern. We have to go back to living our lives at some time and for the time being, being masked to watch a hockey game in person is really not a big deal.
But it sure does suck that the entire tournament was cancelled and it sucks the girls weren’t even given a chance to hit the ice. I feel bad for all of the kids who worked their asses off to make those teams only to have it be cut short. I especially feel bad for the players who would be too old for the tournaments next year. That has to be devastating to not be able to realize a dream they’ve probably had since they were a small kid.
It brings a question of when things will finally return to normal for these types of tournaments. I understand the decision to cancel the tournament over safety concerns of the spread of Omicron, but at this point, it seems like COVID-19 will be around for the rest of our lives. I hope next year protocols won’t be needed and the tournaments can run as they had in the past. And before that, what are the chances the WJC and Women’s U18 tournament can’t resume this summer? Or maybe send the WJC teams to the Olympics to compete for their countries? I think the IIHF should be doing everything in their power to get the kids back on the ice.