Amid the coronavirus outbreak in China, the International Ice Hockey Federation had no choice when it came to the 2020 U18 World Championship Div. II Group B tournament that was set to take place in Tianjin. The event had to be moved. And it wasn’t long before Bulgaria, one of the tournament’s participants, stepped up to assume hosting duties in order for the tournament to be played this season.
However, with the continued spread of coronavirus across the globe, the IIHF announced Monday that the 2020 U18 World Championship Div. II Group B, as well as five other events on the international calendar, have been cancelled. The other cancelled events include: the U18 World Championship Division II Group A in Tallinn, Estonia; U18 World Championship Division III Group A in Istanbul, Turkey; U18 World Championship Division III Group B in Kockelscheuer, Luxembourg; Women’s World Championship Division I Group B in Katowice, Poland; and Women’s World Championship Division II Group A in Jaca, Spain.
Said the IIHF in a statement, the scrapping of the tournaments comes as the result of recommendation from the governing body’s medical committee. The IIHF plans to meet in mid-March in Zurich, at which point the financial and sportive impacts of the cancellations will be addressed.
“In the meantime, the IIHF Office continues to monitor the development of the coronavirus and will re-evaluate daily the capability of tournament organizers to host IIHF championships in April,” the IIHF announced. “Based on the developments of the coming weeks, the IIHF Council will be presented with a series of scenarios during its March meeting before deciding on the next course of action.”
At this time, the only major event that begins in March that has not been cancelled by the IIHF is the Women’s World Championship, which is set to be held in Halifax and Truro, N.S., from March 31 through April 10. All events beginning in April and May, including the World Championship, which is scheduled to be played in Zurich and Lausanne, Sui., from May 8-24, remain on the schedule for the time being. However, the IIHF noted it will continue to monitor the situation as it pertains to upcoming events.
Speaking with Switzerland’s blick.ch over the weekend, IIHF president Rene Fasel said the IIHF is in “close contact” with World Championship organizers in Switzerland and that they will “wait until March 15th to see how this pandemic develops. After that, maybe we can say more.” Fasel also noted that there “won't be a World Championship with ghost games,” which is to say he doesn’t envision the tournament being played in front of empty arenas.
The cancellation of the six March events is not the first impact coronavirus has had on the IIHF calendar. In early February, four Challenge Cup of Asia events were cancelled outright. The U20 Challenge Cup of Asia and Div. I tournaments were scheduled to be played in Bangkok, Thailand, in mid-February, but were nixed amid confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country. Two confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Philippines led to the cancellation of the Women’s Challenge Cup of Asia and Div. I tournaments that were slated to be played between Feb. 23-28 in Manila, as well. Last week, local authorities cancelled the World Championship Division IV in Bishkek, Kyrgysztan, that was set to take place May 3-5.
The latest IIHF cancellations come days after Switzerland’s top two leagues – the National League and Swiss League – announced the beginning of their respective post-seasons would be postponed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and the Swiss government’s ban on events with more than 1,000 spectators. Following a special meeting between clubs from both leagues, it was announced Monday that neither league will begin its playoffs until at least March 15. As such, the beginning of playoff series slated for this coming week and weekend will be shifted back to March 17, should the ban be lifted by that time. In all, nine games will be impacted by the ban.
“In the event that the ban on the event is extended by the Federal Council and/or if there are more stringent requirements, the league and the clubs of the National League and Swiss League will consult again and decide on how to proceed,” the statement reads.
The spread of coronavirus also resulted in the postponement of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association’s Tokyo Series of the Dream Gap Tour. The three-game series was set to feature three games between March 4-7, but the PWHPA stated the Japan Ice Hockey Federation “felt compelled to cancel the event in light of the worsening of the coronavirus outbreak in the region.” According to the PWHPA, both organizations will attempt to run the event during the 2020-21 campaign.
As for the NHL, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said last week that the league continues to monitor the situation. “It's hard not to monitor it,” he said, according to NHL.com's Tom Gulitti. “It seems to be coming closer to us every time, every day that goes by. Certainly, it impacts what our plans will be in China in the future and in the relatively near future.” Daly added that the NHL had hoped to play games in China next preseason, and while that hope still exists, “it becomes far more problematic” as times goes on.
In a statement to The Hockey News, a spokesperson for the NHL said the situation is being closely monitored and the league is in contact with personnel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Health Canada. “We are in regular communication with our Clubs to ensure that they have the latest information and that all necessary precautionary steps are being taken," read the statement. "The health and safety of our players, staff and fans are our highest priorities, and we will implement all necessary safety measures as required."
According to the World Health Organization's latest report on the coronavirus, there have been 89,527 confirmed cases worldwide, more than 9,000 of which are outside China. In all, 67 countries have confirmed cases of coronavirus and there have been 3,056 deaths resulting from the virus.
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