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‘Tremendous disappointment’: Major economic blow with World Juniors cancellation

Click to play video: 'Red Deer and Edmonton businesses hit hard by world juniors cancellation' Red Deer and Edmonton businesses hit hard by world juniors cancellation
WATCH ABOVE: Hotels, restaurants and retailers in both Red Deer and Edmonton are feeling the consequences of the cancellation of the world junior hockey championship. Sarah Ryan has the details – Dec 31, 2021

The cancellation of the 2022 World Juniors hockey tournament, which was being held in Edmonton and Red Deer, has blown another economic wound into a hospitality industry that has been hit time and time again through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The tournament was cancelled Wednesday after multiple COVID-19 cases were found within the teams.

Read more: World Juniors cancelled in Edmonton, Red Deer due to COVID-19 cases

Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston said the community is reeling from the decision.

“It strikes me on several levels,” Johnston said. “The first is the tremendous disappointment — the emotional level of the decision.

“The community is a great sports centre for Alberta, and obviously this a great blow to us.”

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“The (second is) the impact on our local economy, particularly in a COVID environment where we’re already hurting from a hospitality perspective, from a restaurant perspective.

“This is the type of event that would bring a tremendous amount of tourist activity to Red Deer,” Johnston said.

Click to play video: 'World Juniors cancelled in Edmonton, Red Deer due to COVID-19 cases' World Juniors cancelled in Edmonton, Red Deer due to COVID-19 cases
World Juniors cancelled in Edmonton, Red Deer due to COVID-19 cases – Dec 29, 2021

The World Juniors was set to hold 31 games in Edmonton and Red Deer from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5. Only nine of the games were held before the tournament was cancelled by the International Ice Hockey Federation.

Read more: U.S. forfeits world junior hockey game against Swiss due to COVID-19 quarantine

“The build-up was huge… we were ready, and the community was ready, and it was very exciting times,” said Rene Rondeau, the executive director of Tourism Red Deer, who said despite the disappointment he understands why the decision was made.

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“The last thing you want is people to get sick,” Rondeau said. “We understand the situation. I think it’s a devastating blow to the community in the sense of the economy. I think that’s the thing we’re going to feel the impact (of) in the next couple weeks.”

Click to play video: '2022 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships to begin soon in Red Deer, Edmonton' 2022 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships to begin soon in Red Deer, Edmonton
2022 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships to begin soon in Red Deer, Edmonton – Dec 17, 2021

Rondeau said he expects the restaurants, hotels and Westerner Park in Red Deer will see a domino effect from the decision that they’ve been through time and time again through the pandemic.

“We’ve been through this the last two years. So we’re not surprised, but we were hopeful.”

The restaurant Cilantro and Chive, also located in Lacombe, opened a new location in Red Deer in January 2021 amidst the pandemic. Its Red Deer restaurant is just down the street from the Westerner Park where the tournament was set to take place.

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“Hearing that (the World Juniors) was cancelled is a bit of a kick in the teeth of sorts,” said Cilantro and Chive owner Rieley Kay.

“Especially when the hospitality industry has been hit so hard over the last two years.”

Read more: Some rural Alberta restaurants face restrictions exemption program backlash

He said that the restaurant has faced an open-and-close situation since it opened.

“It’s really tough making plans and pushing forward in a direction to try and meet and exceed the government’s expectations and the rules and requirements, and having all sorts of curveballs thrown at us,” Kay said.

“It’s definitely a bit of a step back… especially going into January, which is a little bit more of a typically slower time in the restaurant industry,” he said. “It becomes a bit of a challenge, and again, it’s a bit deflating and defeating.”

Initial ‘Sense of optimism’

Mayor Johnston said that despite the pandemic, the city had approached the 2022 games with a hope they would be successful. The 2021 games were hosted only in Edmonton with no spectators.

“Even with COVID, there was a sense of optimism,” Johnston said. “With the reduced numbers, and the non-sales of beverages and so on, that we could still have a safe tournament.”

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He added that while the current COVID-19 rules in Alberta had not permitted food and beverage sales at the event and lowered capacity limits, the excitement had remained until the cancellation.

Read more: COVID-19 positivity rate reaches levels Alberta has ‘never seen before’

“When the decision was made to take away the food and beverage, that was a major blow to the Westerner,” Johnson said. “But we still had ticket sales, traffic and so on.

“In a COVID environment, we were riding quite a bit of momentum,” he said. “We had just hosted the Canadian Professional Association Rodeo, the CPR, for the first time in two years. That was an extremely successful rodeo event.”

Click to play video: 'Canadian Finals Rodeo brings action; economic boost back to Red Deer' Canadian Finals Rodeo brings action; economic boost back to Red Deer
Canadian Finals Rodeo brings action; economic boost back to Red Deer – Nov 6, 2021

Johnston said while he worries about the current COVID-19 wave and its effect on Red Deer and Alberta as a whole, the safety of players, fans, and the importance of the tournament justifies its cancellation.

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Read more: Canadian Finals Rodeo brings action, economic boost back to Red Deer

“Obviously it’s player safety and fan safety,” he said. “Obviously it was COVID and the safety aspect, but it was also the integrity of the event — the best teams having their best players, and that was obviously compromised with COVID.

“It’s quite a social impact on Canada. This tournament really is an opportunity for us to fly the flag for a lot of celebration.”

Johnston added that looking forward, “certainly, Red Deer will be ready with open arms to take the tournament back.”

Click to play video: 'World Juniors cancelled in Edmonton, Red Deer due to COVID-19 cases' World Juniors cancelled in Edmonton, Red Deer due to COVID-19 cases
World Juniors cancelled in Edmonton, Red Deer due to COVID-19 cases – Dec 29, 2021

Kay at Cilantro and Chive hopes that the businesses and fans in Red Deer facing the loss of the tournament will take a moment to reflect.

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“I just hope that through all of this we can all take a little step back and think about others in our community,” Kay said. “Just being a little bit more courteous, kind, and a little more patient with each other.

“We know we’ll get through this… and hopefully come out better than when we went in.”

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