After accepting that the 2021 World Junior Championship will happen, I shouldn’t have been as shocked as I was today when news broke that six European teams were struggling to board two charter planes arranged by the IIHF due to space and weight restrictions. You would think that cutting corners on costs after the IIHF decided to push ahead with this tournament would be something they’d never do, but apparently I’m giving them way too much credit here. What possibly could go wrong by putting three teams on one plane in tight quarters when there’s a pandemic raging?
The good news is that, after several hours, the IIHF arranged to fly the teams over on the charters while organizing separate cargo planes to deliver the teams’ equipment to Edmonton. Assuming that nothing gets lost in transport, this seems to have allowed the teams to begin their journeys to Edmonton for the tournament which means that the teams will eventually check into their bubble hotels and begin their arrival quarantine. We may still have a tournament after all.
The part that concerns me is that the Russians, Swedes, and Finns all flew together. All players who boarded the plane had tested negative prior to getting on the plane, so the hope is that this flight was COVID-free, but we already know the Swedes dealt with a serious outbreak in their selection camp. Does anyone really believe that either the Finns or the Russians would want to be sitting next to the Swedes on this flight?
The other plane was flying the Austrians, the Czechs, and the Slovaks to Canada, and we only saw isolated cases with those teams in terms of their COVID test results. While the risks there are obviously lower, the close contact within both planes presents a distancing issue immediately for every person aboard those planes. It’s hard to believe I’m writing this twelve days before the tournament starts, but the IIHF is once again rolling the dice and hoping for the best results of this little lab experiment when it comes to packing players and and staff of three teams into planes.
When organizations like the IIHF tell people that they’ll spare no expense when it comes to the health and safety of the players attending the tournament, you really have to question its sincerity after an ordeal like this. It’s fairly clear that “spare no expense” is just lip service in convincing everyone that running this tournament is a good idea, and it has become more and more apparent that the IIHF’s main goal isn’t good hockey or the health and safety of the players and staff, but money.
I’m not naive enough to believe this tournament was never about money as it’s a monster windfall of cash each year for the IIHF, especially when it’s played in Canada and sponsors line up to be featured during the TSN braodcasts who paid a lot of money to present the tournament annually. However, I truly did believe that the IIHF, in its heart of hearts, was also interested in ensuring that the players who attended this tournament – to be played in an empty arena, I should add – would be far more attuned to the coronavirus pandemic and the ways to mitigate the risks of infection. It’s now pretty clear that I should have known better.
While I truly hope that everyone arrives safely and there are no positive tests seen in the next four days of quaratining and testing, the fact that the IIHF allowed this possibility to be a reality has me wondering if the business of hockey is truly a good business when it comes to protecting the health and safety people who make it successful.
If players are assets in the hockey business game, protecting those assets at all costs should be the top priority when any business attempts to capitalize off those assets. Failure to protect those assets at all costs should mean that the business trying to capitalize off them would see losses, but that never seems to happen in the hockey world. Every asset is replaceable, it seems, in this business model, and that should make both players and hockey fans a little more critical of how this business operates.
Selfishly, it’s hard to ignore the mystique of a tournament that has produced so many memories of hockey over the holidays. However, this pandemic, like it has for most industries and companies, has really put the microscope on the IIHF’s business practices and priorities, and I’m not certain I’m a fan of the IIHF any longer following the repeated screwups we’ve seen this year. If this entire tournament has just turned into a money-making venture, the IIHF has lost its way as the ruling body of international hockey.
The IIHF may have quickly resolved the issue they caused today, but there should have never been an issue in the first place. If the IIHF is more worried about profiability than safety, this tournament should have already been cancelled. A bloated bottom line in a healthy year is a major win for the IIHF, but this year’s only priority should be the health and safety of the kids coming to Canada to play in the 2021 World Junior Championship.
The real bottom line is the IIHF should be embarrassed by its efforts to ensure its own profitability over the health and safety of the players and staff making their ways to this spectacle.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!