It’s not as if women’s hockey wasn’t facing enough obstacles in normal times. It fights for attention and funding at every level just like women’s sports have always done, and that’s a fight that is still very much a hard one. So what it doesn’t need is to have that be joined by self-inflicted wounds and also arrows from the outside.
Yesterday, the International Ice Hockey Federation canceled the 2021 Women’s World Championships, which were to be held in Nova Scotia. The tournament had already been moved from April, when it normally takes place, in the hopes that conditions and restrictions would ease in Canada to allow them to take place. They did not.
It is the second straight Women’s Worlds that has been canceled due to the pandemic, though the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) is claiming that it will try to find new dates and a location in the summer. It makes for awkward viewing when you consider that the IIHF staged the World Juniors over the holidays in Edmonton within a bubble, and is still scheduled to stage the Men’s World Championships in Latvia come May. It’s also holding the boys’ U-18 championships in Dallas. And yet the women’s international calendar has remained blank since 2019, when the U.S. women won the championship.
Of course, this isn’t all above board on the men’s side. The U-18 tournament was moved from MIchigan to Texas this year simply because restrictions in Texas are practically non-existent at this point, not because it’s any safer. The Men’s World Championships were supposed to be in Minsk, Belarus and Riga, Latvia, but now it is only in Riga for similar reasons. There has already been some talk of moving the Women’s World Championships to Texas as well, but again, that’s not because it’s all that safe. It’s just because they’ll have it.
Still, it’s pretty telling that the IIHF will wheel pose their way into having men’s tournaments in various locations and situations, but when it comes to the biggest women’s tournament, the best they can do is, “We’ll get back to ya.”
It continues an annus horribilis for the women’s game, perhaps more so than any other sport during the pandemic. The NWHL, which is still without some of the most famous players in the game thanks to its split with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), failed in its first attempt to have a bubble for an Isobel Cup tournament, and needed a second whack at it. That’s along with its players either aligning themselves with BarfStool, or that site then sending its hounds after the league because one player pointed out it was bullshit to be dealing with them in the first place, and that Erika Nardini owning a team would be a bad idea.
As we’ve pointed out, the pandemic didn’t stop the NWSL from gaining momentum, thanks to a successful cup tournament last summer, the addition of Angel City FC and all its celebrity owners, and the launch of this new season along with the buzz of the top of the USWNT’s roster heading over to the Women’s Super League (WSL) in England.
A lot of this is out of women’s hockey’s hands. Everyone wants to play the World Championships, they’re just not being allowed to. The IIHF should have looked and worked way harder to create a secure atmosphere for that tourney, wherever that may have been.
Whoever is to blame, it’s more ground that women’s hockey has to make up when they have more than enough of it already.