Due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus throughout the world, with particularly large impacts now on European soil, today the International Ice Hockey Federation announced the cancellation of seven World Championship tournaments set to begin in March.
The cancellations impact the Men’s Senior and Under-18 divisions, as well as the Women’s Championship divisions; any makeup dates or impacts to 2021 Rankings has yet to be determined. The men’s Division II and III tournaments were cancelled, and the new Men’s Division IV tournament, set to face off in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, was cancelled by local officials in advance of the IIHF before they were set to host Kuwait, Malaysia and the Philippines starting on 03 March.
The two women’s tournaments scrapped were the Division IB tournament, set to begin on 28 March in Katowice, Poland, as well as Division IIA, set to begin the following day in Jaca, Spain. Division IB was set to host teams from China, where the virus originated, as well as from hard-hit countries Italy and South Korea, while Division IIA was to host the Taiwanese and North Korean squads, who have also been impacted by the virus. With local governments across the world now suppressing or outright banning large social gatherings (including hockey games), the IIHF chose to cancel almost all of their March events.
The only event still set to begin (for now) is the Top Division World Championship, which is set to begin on 31 March in Nova Scotia, Canada; while Canada has been impacted by COVID-19, this has largely been isolated to major cities a fair distance from the Canadian Maritime coast where the tournament is set to play. However, with teams set to participate from impacted countries like Japan, Germany and Switzerland, the tournament may still be scrapped between a decision from the IIHF and Canadian health officials, depending on the virus’ spread in the coming weeks. If cancelled, this would be just the second time in history the Women’s World Championship has been cancelled, with the first and only being the 2003 tournament in Beijing, China, cancelled over the Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus.
The larger looming question that the IIHF (and larger sporting world in general) faces is the status of tournaments that will roll into April and May, and potentially even beyond. Switzerland, who shares a border with hard-hit Italy, has already decreed that the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation play club league games in front of empty arenas, and they are set to host the Men’s World Championship in May in both Zürich and Lausanne. IIHF president (and Swiss national) René Fasel has already said that the tournament would not be played in front of empty arenas, leading to speculation that if the virus spread is severe enough the tournament would simply be cancelled, marking the first Men’s cancellation since 1946.
Whether cancellations could run into the summer, which may even impact 2022 Olympic qualifiers in August, remains a potential question mark, as even the premier global sporting event, the Olympics, may be at risk of being cancelled this summer in Tokyo, Japan. The hope remains that the virus will be better understood and contained in the coming weeks, but with the infected toll rising and the spread impacting more and more cities and countries around the world, we may see events cancelled on a global scale not seen since the Second World War.