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Sports SARS: The fallout widens: REACTION: Women's world hockey tourney cancelled as trip to China deemed too risky

Long-time teammates Cassie Campbell and Danielle Goyette and the rest of the Canadian women's hockey team could not hide their disappointment.

Thirteen months after this underdog hockey club stunned the United States to win gold at the Winter Olympics, they were prevented from pursuing their dream of capturing an eighth consecutive world championship when the International Ice Hockey Federation cancelled its 2003 women's world hockey championship yesterday.

This decision arrived after officials from Canada, the United States and Finland said they would not send their teams to China and risk exposing them to severe acute respiratory syndrome.

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Even though the players were aware that developments over the weekend indicated Canada would not be participating in the world championship in Beijing, there was a measure of frustration with the ultimate decision.

"What's frustrating is you work all those months, day after day after day, tired or not, and we find out today it's not going to happen," Ms. Goyette said.

"As players we wanted to compete for that eighth gold medal," Ms. Campbell added. "But I'm glad they took their time and went through all the avenues that were necessary to make sure it was the right decision."

The right decision, in Ms. Campbell's view, was the postponement of the tournament.

"From a player's perspective, had the championships gone on we would have been extremely disappointed," she said. "Would I have been vocal? You betcha, because what those three countries have done for women's hockey we deserve the right to really influence their [IIHF]decisions." "Any country that would have gone on to win, would that medal have brought a lot of merit with it? I don't think so, without the three best countries there."

Although four teams had already travelled to China, IIHF president Rene Fasel said the tournament would not go ahead as planned and could be rescheduled for later this year, perhaps in September or October. Canada, the United States and Finland, the three powers of women's hockey, had delayed their trip to China to gather more information on SARS, which, according to the World Health Organization, has already killed 59 people worldwide and infected an estimated 1,600.

Canadian Hockey Association president Bob Nicholson conceded yesterday that had the IIHF opted to begin tournament play this week Canada, the seven-time world champions would have chosen to stay home.

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"Definitely we were leaning towards not going. We had tremendous support from Secretary of State [for amateur sport]Paul De Villers and all the government agencies over the last three days," said Mr. Nicholson, who had been in contact with USA Hockey and the Finnish Ice Hockey Federation since last Wednesday when the Canadian team chose not to leave for China as originally scheduled.

"We've been on the phone with Health Canada, Foreign Affairs, the Sports Minister and everyone gave us a lot of details of what was going on there. We're happy with [Mr. Fasel's]decision, so we didn't have to take the next step."

Canada's rugby sevens team competed in Hong Kong yesterday and took the precaution of wearing special masks during their flight to Asia. So far, there has been no report of any problems.

The National Hockey League wasn't as fortunate. Two members of the Buffalo Sabres were put under observation after possibly being exposed to the illness that first surfaced in China last November. Defencemen Brian Campbell and Rhett Warrener were recently visited by a relative of Mr. Campbell's, an Ontario hospital worker who was admitted to hospital Friday after showing symptoms.

The two players, who are roommates on the road, did not accompany the Sabres to their Saturday game in Carolina against the Hurricanes. The Erie County health commissioner has recommended that Mr. Campbell and Mr. Warrener be isolated for 10 days, which effectively ends their season since the Sabres will not qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"I'm okay. We're fine," Mr. Warrener said Saturday.

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The CHA began to have serious doubts about attending the women's world championship last Friday when the medical advisory warned of SARS in both the northern and southern portions of China. By then, the IIHF was in discussion with its chief medical officer and with the WHO. Mr. Nicholson said all the information collected indicated the athletes would be at risk.

Teams from Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and Russia had been practising and playing games in China but will now go home.

"We were surprised because the authority in Sweden said there was no problem here, and continued to say there was no problem. I guess the rules in Canada and other places are different," Swedish coach Lars Karlsson said from Beijing this morning. "We're here and ready to play. But I guess we'll just go home now."

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