The coronavirus has killed this year’s women’s world hockey championship.
On Saturday, International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel announced the 10-nation tournament set to begin March 31 in Halifax and Truro, N.S., was cancelled over fears the virus, COVID-19, will spread.
However, it’s expected the women’s event will return in 2021 to the same Canadian cities, pending formal approval by international hockey’s governing body.
“It is with great regret that we take this action,” Fasel said in a statement posted on the IIHF website. The decision was made to cancel the tournament “following an extraordinary meeting by the IIHF council” on Saturday, according to the statement.
“The decision has been made due to safety concerns for the well-being of players, officials and spectators,” Fasel said.
Canadian national team player Sarah Nurse responded to the announcement Saturday afternoon on Twitter.
“Health & Safety come first but this is pretty crushing news,” Nurse tweeted. “Thank you to the cities of Halifax & Truro for all of the time and effort put into hosting this year’s #WomensWorlds (fist bump emoji) We’re looking so forward to coming back and playing at home in Nova Scotia in 2021!”
The IIHF’s call to ice the women’s world championship was also supported by Tom Renney, Hockey Canada’s chief executive officer, who, like Nurse, cited health as the priority.
“The (IIHF) has diligently monitored the development and risk of the coronavirus (and) under the recommendation of the chief medical officer of health of the province of Nova Scotia and the IIHF, it was determined the best course of action was to cancel the event,” Renney said in a statement released by Hockey Canada on Saturday.
“This decision was made in the best interest of the players, fans, staff, volunteers and the general public and we fully support (it).”
Renney also stated “our organization has been assured by the IIHF that it will honour Hockey Canada’s hosting agreement” for the 2021 world championship.
The upcoming under-18 men’s event and the men’s world championship are also under IIHF review, according to the Associated Press.
The IIHF action comes amid growing health concerns across the international sports landscape for athletes, coaches, officials, fans and volunteers.
On Friday night, the NBA reportedly issued a memo to member clubs that they should prepare for the possibility to play games without fans in the stands to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In response, LeBron James told the Associated Press he would not play without fans in the stands.
“I ain’t playing if I ain’t got the fans in the crowd,” the Los Angeles Lakers’ star said Friday night.
“That’s who I play for. I play for my teammates, and I play for the fans.”
The National Hockey League is also closely monitoring COVID-19 concerns.
In an email to the Star, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly described the health watch as a “rapidly evolving situation,” and said the league has been “making preparations for every contingency.”
Daly said the NHL has been in “constant communication with our clubs — and with relevant health experts — and (has) issued numerous advisories and advice on best practices over the last 7-10 days.” Some of those advisories have included limiting interactions with fans, such as not handling items to be autographed.
In response to questions about potentially playing games in empty arenas or cancelling games over virus fears, Daly wrote, “I’m obviously not in a position to rule anything out, but we are going to take all steps we as a league seem reasonable to avoid having to postpone or cancel games.
Get more sports in your inbox
Get the Star’s Sports Headlines email newsletter for a daily round-up of the latest big news.
“I do not suspect that ‘fear of the virus’ as I interpret that will ever cause us to cancel games.”
A spokesperson for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment deferred all COVID-19-related questions regarding the Toronto Raptors and the Toronto Maple Leafs to each club’s respective league.
On Twitter, Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman said the NHL would close locker rooms to media starting Saturday “on the recommendation of Centers for Disease Control” to halt COVID-19 spread. However, there were also reports Saturday that decisions about media access were being left to individual clubs.