During the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been tons of sports events postponed or cancelled altogether. But it’s notable that many of the most high-profile leagues and organizations have found ways to carry on their seasons and tournaments even during this time, often obtaining special governmental exemptions in order to do so. That hasn’t been the case for many other sports, and the latest example of this comes from the indefinite postponement of the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Women’s World Hockey Championships Wednesday, just days before teams were set to arrive in Nova Scotia for the 31-game May 6-16 tournament in Halifax and Truro (which was set to be broadcast on TSN and RDS in Canada, and on NHL Network in the U.S.). Here’s more on that postponement (which originated with Nova Scotia health officials) from John Wawrow of The Associated Press:
IIHF chief Rene Fasel told The Associated Press by phone he was blindsided by the decision, which was made at essentially the last minute. Teams were preparing to travel to Canada over the next two days to satisfy the nation’s quarantine regulations for foreign travelers.
“At 5 o’clock this morning, this was a go. At 7:30 it was not,” Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney said on a video call with reporters. “Some of this is much, much further beyond our control than we would like.”
…Fasel said the focus is now on rescheduling the tournament to potentially this summer and holding it in either Nova Scotia, elsewhere in Canada or finding another host nation. He said the initial plan is to have Nova Scotia host the event in August.
“We have every intention of making sure we follow through with a women’s world championship here in Canada at a point in the near future,” Renney said. “And beyond that, who’s to say?”
…“This is very bad news, very sad. And I feel so bad for the girls,” Fasel said. “They’re looking forward to going and spending two weeks quarantining in Nova Scotia, doing everything possible, and then suddenly, bang. ‘Nope, you cannot come. We closed the border.’”
On one level, yes, the specific cancellation here is not the fault of the IIHF, or Hockey Canada, or the local organizing committee. That’s a decision made by local health officials. And it’s understandable why health officials are worried about bringing in athletes from around the world at the moment, even with a quarantine; Canada as a whole is facing another COVID-19 crisis right now with a huge uptick in cases (and large outbreaks of more infectious variants), and even Nova Scotia (part of a so-called “Atlantic bubble” that had seen lower cases for quite some time) is facing major challenges, with 21 new cases reported across the province Wednesday. That may not seem like a lot by standards elsewhere, but for a province that had seen so few cases for a long run, that’s a significant outbreak. And it’s somewhat understandable that the local health authorities is looking to limit travel there from elsewhere, even if that’s for a big sporting event with its own bubble.
On another level, though, this is a further indication of how much extra preparation, planning, and contingency plans seem to apply to many men’s sporting events versus women’s sporting events. This IIHF women’s world championship is supposed to be held every year; last year’s was never held, and was instead postponed to this year. In that time, as ESPN’s Emily Kaplan noted, the organization has managed to put on a ton of men’s events:
2021 Women's World Championships in Nova Scotia is canceled, source confirmed.
There's been no top level women's international hockey competitions in the last year.
Meanwhile, IIHF has staged Men’s U20, Men’s Worlds & is scheduled to have a Men's U18 in Texas later this month.
— Emily Kaplan (@emilymkaplan) April 21, 2021
That’s not necessarily a suggestion that all tournaments should be held in jurisdictions less likely to cancel the event, as that approach comes with its own problems. If you put on a tournament in a state or province with looser restrictions, that leads to more chances of infection for athletes. And that’s true even for tournaments in a bubble, but it’s especially true for tournaments outside of a firm bubble. With that said, though, it would seem to at least make some sense to come up with backup plans for tournaments in alternate venues if the first venue cancels over health concerns. And it’s notable that some men’s events, like the U-18 men’s championship, were moved to different venues (in that case, Michigan to Texas) long in advance over concerns about what Michigan’s governmental restrictions would mean for that event.
In a lot of ways, what’s really unfortunate here is that there was no IIHF backup plan. It’s worth noting that this wasn’t even a new event in its own right; it came from the postponement of the 2020 IIHF women’s championships, which were set to be held in Halifax and Truro last spring. Meanwhile, many other postponed events took place at a later date last year. So it’s remarkable that even just rolling this over a year didn’t lead to any firm contingency plans, which definitely should have been developed considering the state of COVID-19 restrictions in Nova Scotia. If those had been put in place, they could have just told these already-isolating teams to fly to a new location and play there. But now, this is postponed for at least months, and there’s no assurance that it will actually take place.