The World Juniors canceled? COVID-19 strikes again. 2021 ends with yet another blow to hockey fans. Let’s take a look at the events that led to the IIHF’s decision to cancel the World Juniors after three days of competition.
United States Forfeits Game Against Switzerland
As previously reported, two players on the United States roster tested positive for COVID-19 late Monday night. As a result, the US was forced to forfeit their game against Switzerland on Tuesday and the entire US team and staff were placed into quarantine.
In order to be released from their quarantine, all US players and staff were required to produce two negative test results over a 24-hour span. The results from the first test administered Tuesday morning produced no new positive tests. A second round of testing results was scheduled to come back Wednesday afternoon. Should those results have come back negative, the US would have been released from quarantine and would have been eligible to play their game against Sweden Wednesday night.
Obviously, that game will no longer happen. As of this writing, the US players and staff are still in quarantine awaiting their second test results.
Czechia Forfeits Game Against Finland Due To Positive Test
Early Wednesday morning, a player from the Czechia roster had tested positive for COVID-19. Per protocols, the entire Czech roster and staff were placed into quarantine. As a result, they were forced to forfeit their Wednesday afternoon game against Finland.
This brought the total amount of games forfeited to two. This started (or furthered) rumblings that the IIHF’s ability to complete the World Juniors was in question. It would only get worse. As with the US, Czech players and staff remain in quarantine as of this writing.
Russian Player Tests Positive, Forcing Forfeit To Slovakia
The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Shortly after Czechia’s positive test and subsequent forfeit, it was announced that a Russian player had tested positive for COVID-19. Russia was forced to forfeit their Wednesday afternoon matchup against Slovakia.
With three games canceled in two days, it was time for the IIHF to start doing some evaluating.
IIHF Cancels Remainder Of 2022 World Junior Championship
After assembling their tournament COVID-19 Medical Group, as well as the IIHF Medical Committee, the IIHF decided to cancel the remainder of the 2022 World Junior Championship. In a statement released by the IIHF, they cited concerns over player safety as well as the “sportive integrity of the event” being compromised.
Analyzing the factors that played into the small outbreak and the subsequent decision to cancel the tournament can be tricky.
Last year’s edition of the tournament was able to be played to completion. This was thanks in large part to the tournament taking place in a bubble environment, isolated completely from the general public. This year, the tournament took place in a “soft bubble”. Like last year, teams were required to quarantine upon arrival at the site of the tournament. They also had to produce a certain amount of negative COVID tests before being allowed to break quarantine and skate. Daily tests were administered to all participants and personnel surrounding the tournament. As we saw, just a single positive test would cause the entire team to go back into quarantine.
What was not like last year is the hotel accommodations of the teams. As reported by Daily Faceoff’s Chris Peters, the hotels that the teams were staying at were still open to the public. The hotel in Red Deer occupied by the United States (among other teams) was hosting a wedding and reception. Players would regularly come into contact with wedding guests and other members of the public.
Several reports confirmed that players and personnel followed the safety precautions put forth by the IIHF quite closely. But when consistently coming into contact with members of the public, a breach seems like an inevitability.
A factor that was first made public by TSN’s Bob McKenzie is the outbreak among on-ice officials. McKenzie reported as many as five on-ice officials had tested positive for COVID-19 and were in quarantine. At a certain point, there would have been a real possibility that not enough officials would have been available to work games.
Transmissibility Of Omicron And Viability Of Continuing
The biggest reason cited for the cancellation of the World Juniors is the transmissibility of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. In statements made by IIHF President Luc Tardiff, the IIHF and local health officials had “full confidence” in protocols put in place prior to the tournament. The onset of the highly transmissible Omicron variant forced tournament officials to alter protocols “immediately upon arrival”. Despite this, according to Tardiff, “this was not enough”.
With all of this in mind, IIHF officials made the call to cancel the remaining balance of the tournament. Through the combination of the highly transmissible nature of the Omicron variant and the strict protocols in place requiring teams to forfeit and quarantine in the event of even one positive test, it became clear that games were going to continue to be canceled.
Tough Week For The IIHF
It has been a tough couple of weeks for Luc Tardif and the IIHF. Just days before Christmas, the IIHF announced that it was canceling all tournaments scheduled to take place in January. Most notable among the canceled events was the Under-18 Women’s World Championships. This marks the second year in a row that the event has been canceled due to concerns related to COVID-19. This announcement has drawn criticism from across the hockey world. The biggest criticism comes from the fact that the tournament has been canceled a second time without an effort to make it work. This compared to the lengths the IIHF has gone to hold similar events on the men’s side.
Tardif sat down for an interview to address the cancelation of the women’s Under-18’s. That it was unsatisfying would be putting it kindly. You can read the entirety of the interview posted on the IIHF’s official website here. Tardif insisted that it “is not a gender issue, it is a COVID-19 issue”. He went on to point out all that the IIHF has done to promote the women’s game. Tardif also highlighted his role in the women’s game. The defensive nature of the interview is a tough look, to say the least.
Add to this heat the cancelation of the World Juniors mid-tournament. It’s safe to say that the holiday season has not been kind to Luc Tardif and the IIHF, self-inflicted issues or otherwise.
The day did end, however, with a faint glimmer of hope. In a press conference via Zoom, Tardif shared his hopes to try holding the World Juniors, as well as the Women’s Under-18 Championships, at a later date. Tardif said the goal would be to hold the tournaments over the summer. However, the IIHF needs time to evaluate situations and formulate a plan to hold the tournaments that were canceled.
It will be a logistical challenge to hold these tournaments at a later date. Huge questions loom as far as venue availability. Also, the ability of the various hockey federations to assemble the needed roster. But COVID-19 is the biggest variable, and it is impossible to predict. This latest debacle at the World Juniors does not inspire confidence in the IIHF’s ability to work through the pandemic. But in these tough times of uncertainty, any hope is welcome.
https://sideline-swap.sjv.io/c/3043317/959083/11938 – Save Up to 40% Off CCM Hockey
Skates and Hockey Pads at SidelineSwap.com