Nova Scotia is cancelling the women’s world hockey championship for the second time, just one day after the province’s top doctor said he was confident about the tournament’s safety protocols.
The province says Premier Iain Rankin “withdrew permission for the event” because of the evolving situation with COVID-19 and circulation of variants.
“It was my recommendation the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships be cancelled,” he said in a statement.
“I sincerely regret the short notice, but the rapidly changing environment dictates this decision in the interest of the safety of Nova Scotians and participants. We have worked diligently with Hockey Canada to ensure we can stage a safe and successful world hockey championship and they have been a great partner, but the safety of the Nova Scotia public and participants is paramount and is the reason for our decision.”
In a statement released Wednesday, the IIHF and Hockey Canada said they are aiming to find new dates for the tournament “with the goal to host the event in the summer of 2021.”
“This is very disappointing news to receive with just a few weeks until the tournament was to begin,” said IIHF President René Fasel.
“We strongly believe that we had the adequate safety measures in place to protect players, officials, spectators, and all residents in Halifax and Truro, based on the IIHF and Hockey Canada’s experiences from hosting the IIHF World Junior Championship in Edmonton.”
Gina Kingsbury, the director of the women’s national team, told reporters they were devastated by the news.
“Very deflated and certainly very emotional,” she said about the team’s reaction.
“It’s going to take some time to digest. There’s no doubt about it.”
On Tuesday, the premier announced people from outside Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador will not be allowed to enter the province unless their travel is essential or they are permanent residents of Nova Scotia. That restriction will last at least four weeks.
But when asked about the world hockey championship, which would include teams from nine countries and Canada, chief medical officer of health Dr. Robert Strang said he was comfortable with the tournament’s COVID-19 protocols. The rules included having people quarantine individually in hotel rooms “for a number of days” before the teams could practise within a bubble.
Team Canada’s selection camp, with 47 players in attendance, has already been taking place in Halifax since April 14.
Some of the international teams — including Germany — were scheduled to arrive in Canada on Thursday.
Truro mayor Bill Mills says he found out the province was going to pull the plug on the championships at noon Wednesday in a text message he received from Truro CAO Michael Dolter, who was in contact with tournament officials.
“It’s a disappointment for sure. This is the second year in a row we’ve been cancelled,” said Mills
“But I’m not surprised entirely either. The variants are really going about across the country and we’re seeing significant surges.”
In the days leading up to the tournament, Mills said a growing number of residents were emailing and calling his office, concerned that international players and personnel would be traveling to Truro and putting the town at risk.
“I’ve had a lot of citizens call and ask, ‘Do you really think this is a good idea, to allow this to happen?'” said Mills.
But with case numbers climbing again in Nova Scotia and long lists of public exposures being identified, Mills knew things weren’t going in the right direction.
“A lot of the cases that were being reported recently were based on international or national travel,” said Mills.
When Dr. Strang introduced the 4-week border restrictions, Mills figured that alone would cancel the tournament.
“When they announced the one-month freeze on travel into the province, I quickly looked up the dates to the tournament and said to my wife, ‘This tournament is dead,” he added.
Mills says he feels for the players who have put a lot into preparing to play again and is hopeful the tournament can return to Nova Scotia, but the IIHF has not indicated they would come back.
“I hope we’ll have another crack at hosting the tournament this time next year.”
In a statement, Hockey Canada President Tom Renney said they too were informed by the province Wednesday morning of the cancellation.
“Hockey Canada wishes to thank the Province of Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Health and Dr. Robert Strang for their assistance in the lead up to the event, and we support the decision that has been made,” he said.
“A tremendous amount of work has gone in to hosting a safe and successful world championship, and despite not being able to host the event in Nova Scotia, Hockey Canada remains committed to hosting the Women’s World Championship this year. We will explore all options to host the event in the coming months, if it is deemed safe to do so.”