The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the cancellation two more major international men’s competition.
In a release Tuesday afternoon, the International Ice Hockey Federation announced two events, the World Championship Division I Group A competition in Ljubljana, Slovenia and the Division I Group B tournament in Katowice, Poland, have been cancelled. Both tournaments were slated to take place from April 27 to May 3. Competitors in the former were set to include France, Austria, South Korea, Slovenia, Hungary and Romania. Lithuania, Poland, Japan, Estonia, Ukraine and Serbia were set to compete in the latter.
Most notable about the IIHF’s announcement, however, wasn’t the tournaments that were cancelled, but the tournament that was not. Despite cancelling one event that is directly connected to the top division tournament – the top two teams in the Group A tournament would have earned promotion – the men’s World Championship that is scheduled for May 8-24 in Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, has not yet been axed.
“Unfortunately, at this time no major decisions related to the status of 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship could be taken,” said IIHF President Rene Fasel in a release. “The stakeholders openly discussed what has become a very complex situation with the coronavirus, which is affecting many countries as well as participating teams and various other stakeholders of the World Championship.”
According to the IIHF, the IIHF council, organizing committee, participating teams, marketing partner and “the IIHF’s main insurance broker for the World Championship” were all involved in the conference call. Said the IIHF: “The IIHF informed all parties concerned that it remains in close contact with the Swiss authorities and the insurance company to monitor the coronavirus situation and its impact on the World Championship.”
To be sure, the IIHF’s continued refusal to announce the cancellation or postponement of the event is puzzling. That’s true not only for health and safety reasons, but also from the standpoint of the on-ice product.
Generally, the top World Championship features a variety of athletes who play in the NHL and AHL, and the decisions by both leagues to postpone their seasons until at least May suggests many of the players under contract in those leagues will not be available for tournament participation. Even in the event both the NHL and AHL play abridged schedules, it seems certain the majority of games will be played following the presently scheduled May 24 conclusion of the worlds. This is to say the tournament would feature rosters composed of players who ply their trade overseas instead of the pseudo-best-on-best action the tournament can usually provide.
It feels as though the IIHF is determined at this point to make every effort to play the tournament, however. But with so much uncertainty and so many unknowns, the status of the World Championship is a situation that will need to be monitored closely. For now, the tournament is on, but we’ve all seen now how quickly things can change.
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