In theory, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) isn’t a for-profit agency. Much like FIFA. This is a laughable farce, of course. But there is relief that the facade of shepherding the game and promoting its growth crashed to the sidewalk long ago. They’re barely trying to hide it anymore.
As is usual at this time of the year, the men’s World Junior Championship started in Alberta on Sunday. If you’re unfamiliar, the tournament is what hockey at the Olympics used to be, kinda, as it’s the U-20 teams from around the globe. Really, only Canada cares, while pretending to not care when Canada doesn’t win (they’re definitely not owned). But they treat it as their own NCAA tournament, and as it starts the week between Christmas and New Year’s, most hockey fans aren’t doing much else anyway. Especially now, as the NHL can’t get off the ground in most places at the moment. It’s generally the best setting to scout your team’s current or future prospects crammed into two weeks, which is the appeal for most fans. Those who aren’t using it to define their country’s well-being, that is.
However, at the launch of the men’s WJC, the IIHF announced that the women’s U-18 tournament in January would be canceled due to the latest wave of the pandemic. That’s the highest tournament below the women’s Olympics or World Championships just wiped off the calendar. As are all IIHF events in January. Strange, as the WJC ends in January, and yet still seems to be going ahead. Quite the loophole, starting five days before January, wouldn’t you say?
This is the second year in a row that the women’s U-18 tournament has been canceled, while the WJC has rolled on. Last year’s women’s World Championships were postponed until August, while the men’s took place in its normal spring slot. The men’s U-18 is still scheduled for April, after taking place last spring as well. The 2020 version was canceled, right at the dawn of the pandemic. And there is no women’s equivalent to the WJC, for some reason.
You don’t have to call in Watson to put this one together. The WJC has a big television deal from TSN in Canada, and various other ones in Europe as well. The IIHF would be loath to lose out on that cash.
But that’s not really the point, is it? The idea is to provide equal opportunity, not only if you can also provide TV cash and tickets sold. There’s supposed to be a chance for everyone to represent their country at the biggest stage at every age level. The rest is incidental, or at least it should be. That’s the theory, even if in practice it’s miles and miles away.
Also, it’s going to be tricky for the women’s teams to drum up interest when they never get to play. And women’s sports have spent the previous couple years proving that if you put them on TV people will watch them. Like this event. Or this one. Here’s another.
Now you may say that women’s soccer and basketball have a higher platform to launch from than women’s hockey, though with popularity and ratings about the same between men’s soccer and hockey, that might not be all that true. The professional game for women has been far messier than their counterparts which doesn’t help, but that hardly means it’s beyond barely catering to, as the IIHF seems to think.
But again, the TV aspect of this argument doesn’t really apply. Either it’s safe to have these tournaments now, or it’s not. The beginning of the ruckus in Alberts suggests that it is in some sports of the world. The cancellation of the Women’s U-18 says it’s not safe anywhere. Both of these things can’t be true. What it says is that it’s just safe enough if it will also make a lot of money.
Which I suppose has been the overarching lesson from all of this, and why we’re still stuck in this pandemic. What’s this about shortening isolation periods now?