Friday, 23 April 2021

Two Sides Can Be Right

If you're into math and geometry, you're likely well aware that the image to the left is a right triangle as characterized by the right angle formed by two sides. Like all triangles, it also has three sides, and this is probably a perfect way to illustrate the battle between the province of Nova Scotia, the IIHF, and the women who were supposed to compete at the IIHF Women's World Championship in Halifax and Truro in two weeks. The key in this battle between the three entities is that two sides are right while one needs to do a little math on its side in order to get right. At this point in time, though, one of these three sides should be shouldering most of the blame in having the tournament cancelled.

On Wednesday, Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin banned all travel coming into the province over fears of a growing number of cases of COVID-19 in the maritime proince. That obviously meant that the nine non-Canadian teams would not be able to travel to the province which was the catalyst for the IIHF announcing that the tournament had been cancelled.

Players and the IIHF were outraged at Rankin's decision, but we need to be mindful that Rankin is responsible for the health and well-being of the people of Nova Scotia, and one hockey tournament is not really going to sway his decision-making when it comes to looking after his constituents. Nova Scotia had been one of the most careful provinces when it came to testing and the total number of cases, but the trend in the last week has been anything but good when one looks at the spike.
There were two new cases on April 13 compared to today which saw 52 new cases. They had jumped from 15 cases on the 18th to 36 cases on Wednesday when Rankin made the announcement, and the overly-cautious Nova Scotia government made the right call here based on what we know about how fast some of the new COVID-19 variants can spread and be transmitted.

"There was not one positive case," Kendall Coyne Schofield tweeted on Thursday. "Every single country, player and staff member committed to the protocols the Nova Scotia health officials outlined and we successfully did everything that was asked of us in order to safely compete – until we were told we couldn't."

It's wonderful that Coyne and her teammates and the players coming to Nova Scotia were following the rules, but these countries are guests in Nova Scotia where Nova Scotia makes the rules. Nova Scotia saw a problem in their new case trends and decided to lockdown before things get out of control when it comes to their ability to admit and help patients in their medical facilities. This is responsible governing by Rankin despite having the players and staff from every country following the strict protocols set out by Nova Scotia.

Personally, I applaud Rankin for not bowing to pressure from various hockey governing bodies and doing what's right for the people of the province of Nova Scotia. I have used this line on this blog before, but what's right isn't always popular and what's popular isn't always right.

The other side of this coin, though, is the second portion of Coyne's tweet where she stated, "... to learn that was there was no contingency plan and the IIHF is letting 250 of the best players in the world return to their homes today with, 'We are seeking new dates,' is simply unacceptable."

I agree wholeheartedly with her on this stance because the IIHF should have had multiple plans in place because we've seen COVID-19 upend a number of events across the world. The IIHF came out today and tried to defend the reason for not having one, and, to be frank, the reason comes across as a little flimsy.

"The IIHF is not in agreement with the government's position insofar as we had done everything necessary to install the proper COVID-19 safety precautions in place and remained in close communication with the relevant government and health authorities and with Hockey Canada throughout the preparation stage," IIHF president Rene Fasel said in a statement today. "As both the IIHF and Hockey Canada had assurances that this event was going to proceed a few days before the cancellation announcement, this news was completely unexpected."

As I've already made clear above, the government of Nova Scotia has zero responsibility for making sure this tournament happens, and, with respect to this pandemic, pretty much every date set for something to happen has become fluid. With everything changing based upon case numbers and public health safety on a day-to-day basis, locking in on this date happening, especially with the emergence of highly-transmissable variants leading to a third wave of infections across North America, seems especially foolish given the IIHF's experiences in Edmonton with the World Junior Championship.

That being said, I will defend the IIHF when Fasel stated that planning a second location for the tournament in the event this one was cancelled was "just not possible from an expense and logistical perspective". That's entirely understandable because a tournament of this magnitude takes months of planning and coordination to have everything go off without a hitch. Having a second site with those same logistics ready to go would mean that all of that time and effort to pull that off would have been wasted effort, and I don't believe the IIHF wants to waste that kind of manpower.

The cost part? Meh. I don't buy it. If the IIHF can run the U18 World Championship in Dallas without any fans in the stands, this is less about the costs to run tournaments. The IIHF isn't making money off the ticket sales, so it's clearly cashing in on the television revenue it gets. So let's be honest about cost: if this tournament didn't have every game aired on TSN and the NHL Network, would it have happened? I only ask because the U18 Women's World Championship was cancelled, and it doesn't have the same TV deal to cover those games, so am I connecting the dots correctly here, IIHF?

That leads me back to Coyne's statement and wonder why secondary, future locations hadn't been scouted for an event like this in case the tournament was cancelled with TSN and the NHL network holding broadcast rights for this event. Finding arenas wouldn't be an issue in May for most non-NHL cities, and there's absolutely zero worry about arena size with no fans being allowed into the event. Really, the costs wouldn't have been all that prohibitive if a little long-term planning had been done since the IIHF could use NCAA rinks quite easily to make this tournament happen.

It seems awfully ignorant of the IIHF to just assume that because they got assurances days before the event was ready to go, this tournament wouldn't be affected by a growing number of positive cases in Nova Scotia. On top of that, the IIHF had already seen the World Junior Championship affected in a big way after they had assured everyone that the bubble was safe for players, so I am baffled at the IIHF's cavalier response to a Canadian premier doing the right thing for his people.

As it stands now, the rumour is that the IIHF will look at alternate sites for the IIHF Women's World Championship with a summer date for the tournament to be played. I'm hopeful we'll still get to see the best women in the world come together and have this tournament, but we really really need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture here in that it's a luxury for these women to be able to play when the vast majority of the world hasn't been allowed to set foot inside a hockey rink.

Like the right triangle at the top, two sides are right here: Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin is right in looking out for the good of all Nova Scotians, and the women who questioned the IIHF are right in asking why the IIHF didn't have a backup plan. Both sides can be right in this situation because both things - the health of the public in Nova Scotia and the outrage shown by the women - are independent of each other when it comes to finding a solution of this problem.

At the end of the day, the IIHF needs to get this tournament rescheduled as soon as humanly possible because it seems like the IIHF is all about creating double-standards when it comes to hockey being for everyone.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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