A women's world hockey championship has been wiped out by disease for a second time, with host Canada the loser of this year's tournament.
The International Ice Hockey Federation cancelled the 10-country tournament scheduled for March 31 to April 10 in Halifax and Truro, N.S., because of concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus.
"We're all pretty devastated. We've been so excited to have this opportunity to play on home soil in front of the crowd in Halifax that we knew was going to be so engaging and so loud," said Canadian defenceman Renata Fast, who pointed out that the cancellation comes after the Canadian Women's Hockey League folded and the Professional Women's Hockey Player Association walked out on the National Women's Hockey League, essentially suspending professional women's hockey in North America.
"This year's been tough with no leagues, and that doesn't help the situation. It was probably the biggest moment we were going to have for women's hockey this year. We're all pretty devastated," said Fast. "We understand that health and safety comes first but it is tough to know that everything we've put into this year to grow as a team and the decisions that were made to move forward with the team."
The 2003 women's championship in Beijing was called off because of the Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in China.
The IIHF has assured Canada that the 2021 women's championship will be held in Nova Scotia even though Russia was scheduled to host it next year, Hockey Canada president Scott Smith said in a conference call.
When the Japanese women's team requested early arrival in Canada to avoid a possible quarantine in their own country, Hockey Canada sought guidance from Nova Scotia's health authority and asked for an official position on the tournament.
"Hockey Canada received a letter from the Nova Scotia health authority recommending the event not be held at this scheduled time," Smith said.
"They're the authority on health in Nova Scotia and we took their direction."
That information was forwarded to the IIHF, which made a decision Saturday to call off the tournament.
"It is with great regret that we must take this action," IIHF president Rene Fasel said Saturday in a statement. "Nevertheless, the decision has been made due to safety concerns for the well-being of players, officials, and spectators."
"Through those discussions it was very clear the IIHF would have the ultimate decision," Hockey Canada chief executive officer Tom Renney said.
"Based on the information the province of Nova Scotia had, and their desire to have the IIHF postpone the event, we can only concur with the IIHF that it was the right thing to do."
Canadian players were told Saturday they would not play for a world championship gold medal on home ice this year.
The loss of the year's marquee event in international women's hockey is yet another blow for the top female hockey players in the world.
The Canadian Women's Hockey League folded last year after 12 seasons. November's Four Nations Cup in Sweden was called off due to a dispute between the Swedish federation and its national women's team.
More than 200 players formed the Professional Women's Hockey Association in the wake of the CWHL's collapse. They refuse to compete in the five-team NWHL because they don't feel its financially sustainable.
"Not taking anything away from the severity of the situation, but it's kind of a 'kick us while we're down' situation," said Canadian forward Sarah Nurse. "Last year at the world championships, we found that our league (the CWHL) was folding. Then the Four Nations Cup (in Sweden) was cancelled.
"It can't really go down any more for us. There's no way but up for us."
The PWHPA is playing showcase tournaments and exhibition games this winter in a "Dream Gap Tour" to drum up fan and corporate support for a league the players envision. Nurse addressed media at Saturday's PWHPA exhibition in Tempe, Ariz.
Hockey Canada's director of female hockey teams said Canada's world championship roster will be announced to acknowledge the hard work the women did to make the team.
"To be one of 23 is something we need to recognize," Gina Kingsbury said.
The escalating outbreak of COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with numerous sporting events across Europe and Asia with games being
The women's world curling championship, slated to start next weekend in Prince George, B.C., and world figure skating championships, scheduled for March 16-22 in Montreal, still had the green light as of Saturday.
Halifax was the host city of the 2004 women's world championship a year after its cancellation due to SARS.
Tickets already sold for 2020 will be honoured at next year's tournament, according to Hockey Canada.
"Public health comes first," Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said Saturday.
"It's going to be a great disappointment to people. But I don't quarrel with the decision.
"It's a shame for organizers. It's a shame for the fans. It's a shame for the volunteers and for the players."
Fasel said the status of other upcoming international hockey tournaments — which will involve Canadian teams — will be determined in the coming month, starting with the under-18 men’s championships April 16-26 in Michigan.
Fasel said a decision regarding that tournament likely will be made within 10 days.
The IIHF will wait until mid-April to determine whether to proceed with May's men's world championships in Switzerland.
The virus has led to the NHL and NBA considering taking precautionary measures. On Friday, the NHL issued a memo to its teams urging players to limit contact with fans.
— With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax and The Associated Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2020.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press