The International Ice Hockey Federation has cancelled the under-18 women’s world championship for a second straight year over COVID-19 concerns, a move that has drawn sharp criticism as the men’s world junior hockey championship appears ready to start on schedule.
The IIHF announced Friday that tournaments scheduled to begin in January have been cancelled due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
The U18 championship was scheduled to take place Jan. 8-15 in Linkoping and Mjolby, Sweden. It’s the second straight year the tournament has been cancelled after the 2021 event, also scheduled for Linkoping and Mjolby, was scrapped due to the pandemic.
News of the cancellation came two days before the men’s junior hockey championship was set to begin in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta.
“Why is it automatically a cancellation?,” tweeted Canadian women’s national team defender Erin Ambrose, who won gold in 2010 and 2012 and silver in 2011 with the U18 team. “We understand the concerns regarding health and safety but why is a postponement not considered for these women as the men’s tournaments continue without hesitation?”
Hockey Hall of Famer Hayley Wickenheiser said on Twitter that she question’s the IIHF’s stated reason for cancelling the women’s U18 tournament.
“Nothing to do with safety, if they can pull off the (men’s tournament),” she wrote, noting that event is a much bigger source of revenue for the IIHF. “Where there is a will, there is always a way. I question the ‘will’ part.”
“Disappointed. Nope. OUTRAGED!” added the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association on Twitter. “These women deserve better. Yet again.”
The IIHF said in a release that the decision to cancel the January tournaments was based on a recommendation from the organization’s medical committee.
IIHF communications manager Adam Steiss said the men’s world junior championship is going ahead while the January tournaments have been cancelled because “the epidemiological situation changed drastically only after the (men’s) U20 players entered quarantine.”
“The medical committee’s recommendation took into account the travel risks that the teams playing in the January tournaments would have faced, and the belief that the tournament organizers would not have been able to safely manage an outbreak,” Steiss said in an e-mail to The Canadian Press.
The IIHF said in its release that it was not possible to reschedule the women’s under-18 championship “due to league commitments within Sweden.”
“Our staff and athletes are extremely disappointed to learn of the cancellation of the 2022 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship for the second year in a row,” Gina Kingsbury, Hockey Canada’s director of women’s national teams, said in a statement.
“Our entire team has worked hard both on and off the ice to be ready to compete next month in Linkoping and Mjolby, Sweden, even going so far as to cancel our selection camp out of an abundance of caution and to ensure our players and staff would be able to represent Canada on the world stage.
“We understand the changing landscape and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and we know cancelling events is never a decision that is made lightly.”
The Group A, Group B and Division II women’s under-18 tournaments were also cancelled, as were the Group B and Division II men’s under-20 tournaments.
The last U18 women’s championship to take place was 2020 in Bratislava, Slovakia, where the United States beat Canada in the championship game.
“These are hard facts to have to face, and as with last year we must take the difficult decision to cancel men’s and women’s IIHF events, including the women’s U18 top division now for the second year in a row,” IIHF president Luc Tardif said in a statement.
“The U18 Women’s World Championship is an important part of strengthening and building ice hockey on the girls’ and women’s side, but with that said, we have great respect and understanding for the decision based on the pandemic situation in the world,” he added.