How the women’s world hockey tournament in Halifax could be a ‘real triumph’ for city

FILE - In this April 4, 2019, file photo, Canada's Sarah Nurse, left and Natalie Spooner celebrate Spooner's goal against Switzerland during a Hockey Women's World Championships preliminary match in Espoo, Finland. Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Lehtikuva via AP, File

As the Canadian women’s hockey team takes to the ice in Halifax for their training camp this week, there is renewed optimism about a “sense of normalcy” a re-scheduled world championship could bring.

The IIHF announced Thursday it has tentatively booked its Women’s World Championship in Halifax and Truro, N.S. for May 6-16.

The 2020 tournament was postponed on March 7, 2020 — about three weeks before it was slated to begin.

At the time, mounting concerns over the new coronavirus, which days later would be declared a global pandemic, were starting to take hold.

“I think that was a point where many people in Halifax and Canada -– that tournament being cancelled -– where (COVID-19) became real,” said Halifax councillor Waye Mason.

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Organizers had originally been eyeing a rescheduled April 2021 date for the 10-team tournament, but the federation opted to push it to May. They note final approvals have not yet been received from provincial and federal health authorities, nor has there been any exemptions to the federal quarantine rules.

“Hockey Canada and the Host Organizing Committee continue to work with government officials and medical experts in the Province of Nova Scotia, as well as the Canadian government, to develop and build a medical plan that will ensure the safety of all Canadians and the participating players, coaches, and staff,” the federation states in a news release.

The province did approve the Canadian training camp this week because players and staff are in a ‘camp bubble’ and quarantining between the hotel and rink.

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“Any event being held in Nova Scotia must adhere to all Public Health protocols. We are in discussions with Hockey Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada around this proposed tournament,” chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang told Global News.
Click to play video: 'Halifax mayor disappointed, but understands women’s hockey cancellation'
Halifax mayor disappointed, but understands women’s hockey cancellation
Likewise, Hockey Canada says hosting the tournament in Nova Scotia “remains a priority” and it’s working with health officials in the province to “ensure the event can be safe for the Nova Scotia communities and the competing teams.”
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Mason says while there are still many unknowns about the tournament, recent developments in the province’s vaccination plan are a positive sign. The province said this week its rollout is “on track” and it is accepting 13,000 doses this month of the newly approved AstraZeneca vaccine.
Considerations he sees include whether there’s a risk of COVID-19 community spread at the time, what travel restrictions will be in place, what quarantine protocols will be needed, and whether participants will need to ‘bubble.’
“I know after 15 months, the public is really tired of hearing us say things like, ‘Well, we’ll just have to see’ and ‘We’re working out the details,’ but we’ll just have to see and we’re working out the details,” he said.

Boost to economy welcomed, no matter how much

Paul MacKinnon, CEO of the Downtown Halifax Business Commission, says its members rely strongly on tourism and have struggled particularly hard during the pandemic. He says if the tournament is held — regardless of how many restrictions there are — the economic benefits will be happily welcomed.

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A staff report to Halifax council at the time of their bid expected 82,000 people would be attending the games. It was also estimated the event would have a budget of $3.5 million, with the largest expenses in meals and accommodations.

Those numbers are highly unlikely now.

“Obviously the impact for downtown will really depend on A, whether it happens and B, whether it happens with fans. Because typically these kinds of events, they’re hugely popular, they bring in people from all over the place,” MacKinnon said.

“No doubt we won’t have the kind of regular economic impact that we would have with it but you know what, anything happening in terms of an event in downtown Halifax is going to be good at whatever level they’re able to do it.”

He points out Nova Scotia, which has been able to maintain low COVID-19 case numbers throughout the pandemic, is “one of the safest” places to hold such an event.

“At this point, I guess it’s safe to say we’ll take anything,” MacKinnon said. “Any sign of optimism or even the smallest bit of business in downtown Halifax, we’d be happy to see that happen.”


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