Women's hockey championship cancelled over coronavirus concerns
A women's world hockey championship has been wiped out by disease for a second time, with host Canada the loser of this year's tournament.
The International ice Hockey Federation cancelled the tournament scheduled for March 31 to April 10 in Halifax and Truro, N.S., because of concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus.
"It is with great regret that we must take this action," IIHF president Rene Fasel said Saturday in a statement.
"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 timeframe."
The 2003 women's championship in Beijing was called off because of the SARS outbreak in China.
Subject to approval by the IIHF Congress, the 2021 women's world championship will be held in Nova Scotia.
"The International Ice Hockey Federation 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 even," Hockey Canada president Tom Renney said in a statement.
"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.
"A tremendous amount of work has been put forth by our athletes, staff, the host organizing committee and our partners, and we look forward to continuing to prepare for this world-class event when it returns to Nova Scotia in 2021."
Fasel told The Associated Press the difficulties some of the eight nations will encounter in simply making travel plans, such as Japan, where almost all sports events and large gatherings have been cancelled.
"It's scary," Fasel told The AP.
The cancellation of the year's marquee event in international women's hockey is yet another blow for the top female hockey players in the world.
The Canadian Women's Hockey League collapsed last year. November's Four Nations Cup in Sweden was called off due to a dispute between the Swedish federation and the national women's team.
More than 200 of the top women players formed the Professional Women's Hockey Association in the wake of the CWHL's collapse.
They refused to compete in the five-team NWHL because they don't feel its financially sustainable.
"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 female hockey teams.
The escalating virus outbreak has played havoc with numerous sporting events across Europe and Asia with games being cancelled or played without spectators.
The women's world curling championship, slated to start next weekend in Prince George, B.C., and world figure skating championships, scheduled for March 16-22 in Montreal, still had the green light as of Saturday.
Halifax hosted the 2004 women's world championship, which Canada won.
"This is tough for players, fans organizers and our local .Halifax community," Halifax mayor Mike Savage said on Twitter. "But a sound decision based on public health recommendations. We look forward to hosting when the time is right."
Fasel said the status of other upcoming international hockey tournaments will be determined in the coming month, starting with the under-18 men's championships in Michigan from April 16-26.
Fasel said a decision regarding that tournament likely will be made within 10 days.
The IIHF will await until mid-April to determine whether to proceed with May's men's world championships in Switzerland.
The virus has led to the NHL and NBA considering taking precautionary measures.
On Friday, the NHL issued a memo to its teams urging players to limit contact with fans.
The move followed a similar directive this month by the NBA, which has told its players to stop high-fiving fans and strangers, and avoid taking items for autographs.
With files from The Associated Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2020.