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Women's hockey championship cancelled over coronavirus concerns

Last Updated Mar 7, 2020 at 12:49 pm PDT

Canada's Erin Ambrose (23), Meghan Agosta (2) and Sarah Potomak (44) stand during the Canadian national anthem after Canada defeated Finland 4-0 in the IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship semifinal. (Jason Kryk/CP)

HALIFAX — 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 time frame.”

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.

“Health & Safety come first but this is pretty crushing news,” Canadian forward Sarah Nurse said on Twitter.

“So sad to learn about the cancellation of the Women’s World Championships,” her teammate Natalie Spooner tweeted.

“Halifax would have been electric. Thank you to everyone who put in countless hours to make sure it was prepared to host the world! It’s not goodbye, it’s just see you later and we will see you next year!”

Hockey Canada president Tom Renney said Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer was consulted on the decision.

“The International Ice Hockey Federation has diligently monitored the development and risk of the coronavirus 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,” 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 of 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 loss 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 its national women’s team.

More than 200 of the game’s stars 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 outbreak of COVID-19 has wreaked 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 was the host city of the 2004 women’s world championship a year after its cancellation due to SARS.

“Public health comes first,” Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said Saturday.

“There’s been so much effort, so much work in Halifax and Truro … and it’s going to be a great disappointment to people. But I don’t quarrel with the decision.”

“At the end of the day, the IIHF had to make that decision upon advice,” he said, noting he wasn’t part of the discussions.

“It’s a shame for organizers. It’s a shame for the fans. It’s a shame for the volunteers and for the players.”

The PWHPA is playing showcase tournaments and exhibition games this winter in a “Dream Gap Tour” to drum up fan and corporate support for a league the players envision.

PWHPA games against Japan’s national women’s team in Tokyo scheduled for this week were cancelled in February.

Fasel said the status of other upcoming international hockey tournaments — which will involve Canadian teams — will be determined in the coming month, starting with the under-18 men’s championships April 16-26 in Michigan.

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.