The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) announced on Friday that they have cancelled all events set to begin in January due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the increase in Omicron variant cases.
This announcement means the under-18 women’s world championships tournament will be cancelled for the second year in a row. The tournament was set to run Jan. 8-15 in Linkoping and Mjolby, Sweden. Rather than postponing the tournament or moving it to another location at a later date, the IIHF opted for the cancellation.
This comes just two days before the under-20 men’s teams are gearing up in Alberta to play their tournament, which will not be affected by the announcement. Now, two years in a row, they’ve found a way for the men to play while just giving up on the women.
In their statement, the IIHF said is not possible to reschedule the women’s under-18 championship “due to league commitments within Sweden.” The tournament could be played during the league’s off-season, moved to another area of the country with more available facilities or moved to another country completely. There are solutions to the problem, it is just easier for the IIHF to cancel it rather than work to find a solution.
This tournament is one of the first opportunities female hockey players have to play at the international level. It is a part of the development and now, two age groups of young women from across the world have missed out on the chance to play in the tournament.
Health and safety need to remain a priority but the IIHF has put much more effort into finding ways for the men to play under the circumstances rather than the women. Men’s tournaments have had alternate plans, played in a bubble and found ways to keep the athletes safe while playing.
Since the announcement, female and male athletes, staff and fans have joined in on the conversation surrounding the inequality. While it is encouraging to see so many outraged by this decision, it needs to continue beyond just the immediate reaction in order to see any type of actual change. We often talk about how we want to grow the women’s game and women’s sports. The only way to grow the game is exposure which doesn’t happen if the tournament isn’t played.
Hockey players and fans should be able to rely on the sport’s governing body to promote equality and follow through on that commitment. The IIHF has clearly not done that in this case or in many cases in the past. It’s time for the IIHF to do better and give men and women equal opportunities to play at an international level.