The International Ice Hockey Federation has canceled the under-18 women’s world championship for the second straight year over COVID-19 concerns, drawing sharp criticism with the men’s world junior hockey championship opening this weekend.
The IIHF announced Friday that tournaments scheduled to begin in January have been canceled because of the rapid spread of the omicron variant.
The U18 championship was scheduled to take place Jan. 8-15 in Sweden. It’s the second straight year that the tournament has been canceled after the 2021 event was scrapped due to the pandemic.
News of the cancellation came two days before the men’s junior hockey championship was set to begin in Canada.
The IIHF “has prioritized/held top division mens events during the pandemic but the top division womens events – cancelled again. UNACCEPTABLE,” longtime U.S. hockey star Kendall Coyne Schofield posted on Twitter. “Figure out how to safely play the U18 Worlds this season, just like the U18 men & #WorldJuniors. These players DESERVE to play too.”
Hockey Hall of Famer Hayley Wickenheiser questioned the IIHF’s stated reason for canceling the women’s U18 tournament.
“Nothing to do with safety, if they can pull (off) the (men’s tournament),” she wrote on Twitter. “Where there is a will, there is always a way. I question the ‘will’ part.”
“Disappointed. Nope. OUTRAGED!” added the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association on Twitter. “These women deserve better. Yet again.”
The IIHF said in a release that the decision to cancel the January tournaments was based on a recommendation from the organization’s medical committee.
IIHF communications manager Adam Steiss said the men’s world junior championship is going ahead while the January tournaments have been canceled because “the epidemiological situation changed drastically only after the (men’s) U20 players entered quarantine.”
“The medical committee’s recommendation took into account the travel risks that the teams playing in the January tournaments would have faced, and the belief that the tournament organizers would not have been able to safely manage an outbreak,” Steiss said in an email to The Canadian Press.
The IIHF said in its release that it was not possible to reschedule the women’s under-18 championship “due to league commitments within Sweden.”
The Group A, Group B and Division II women’s under-18 tournaments also were canceled, as were the Group B and Division II men’s under-20 tournaments.
The last U18 women’s championship to take place was 2020 in Bratislava, Slovakia, where the United States beat Canada in the championship game.
“These are hard facts to have to face, and as with last year we must take the difficult decision to cancel men’s and women’s IIHF events, including the women’s U18 top division now for the second year in a row,” IIHF president Luc Tardif said in a statement.
“The U18 Women’s World Championship is an important part of strengthening and building ice hockey on the girls’ and women’s side, but with that said, we have great respect and understanding for the decision based on the pandemic situation in the world,” he added.
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