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Health concerns and travel bans closing international borders stemming from the new coronavirus pandemic left the International Ice Hockey Federation with no choice but to cancel the men’s world hockey championships.
The decision to cancel the 16-team tournament to be held in Switzerland in May was formally announced Saturday, and essentially wipes out the IIHF’s entire spring calendar of world championship events.
The governing body previously canceled the women’s world hockey championships set to be held in Canada and the men’s Under-18 championship to be played in Michigan next month.
“This is a harsh reality to face for the international ice hockey family, but one that we must accept,” IIHF President René Fasel said in a released statement.
“The coronavirus is a global problem and requires major efforts by government to combat its spread,” he added. “The IIHF must do all it can to support this fight. We have to set sport aside for now.”
Due to the pandemic’s global scale, the council ruled there was no possibility of relocating the championship to another country.
The two-week tournament was set to start May 8 with games to be played in Zurich and Lausanne.
World championship general secretary Gian Gilli referred to the decision as a “huge disappointment” but one that must be accepted.
“It is an exceptional situation for all concerned and it is now a question of resolving all the outstanding issues,” Gilli said.
The IIHF was already bracing for a cancellation after Fasel on Tuesday told The Associated Press it was “a question of when,” following an executive committee conference call.
Before making the decision official, Fasel said the IIHF had to first consult with its host and marketing partners and insurance carrier to determine what contractual obligations had to be met.
Fasel cited numerous challenges facing officials, ranging from health directives in place limiting attendance to travel bans making it difficult for nations to send their teams. Another issue was players lacking practice time, with most of the world’s pro hockey leagues having either indefinitely suspended or canceled their seasons.
Rosters are made up of mostly professional players, including NHLers, whose teams have either missed the playoffs or been eliminated in the early rounds.
On Monday, the NHL announced it will wait 45 days before it can provide guidance on when teams can potentially reopen practice.
“It’s really scary,” Fasel told The AP on Tuesday by phone from his native Switzerland. “Europe is just collapsed. It’s really a strange feeling. Our neighbors yesterday, the federal council decided to close all the restaurants and everything. It’s like war.”
With championship host sites already determined through 2025, the IIHF has yet to determine whether it will consider altering its schedule and allow Switzerland to host next year’s championship.
Belarus and Latvia were selected to co-host the tournament next year.
The IIHF council also voted to postpone its annual congress set to take place in Zurich, Switzerland in May.
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