After most IIHF tournaments were cancelled in 2020/2021, at the outset of the 2021/22 season still more events had to be cancelled with the sudden and swift surge of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, none more famously than the 2022 World Junior Championship, after just three days, and the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship that was supposed to start after it.
But IIHF President Luc Tardif vowed to play all cancelled events, and although it has taken the better part of eight months, he has kept his word. The summer of 2022 has seen more IIHF activity than the winter of 2021/22. Two months after Canada claimed gold in Madison, USA at the rescheduled Women’s U18s, here we are in Edmonton to play the “World Juniors 2.0”, the second-last top-level event of the make-up season. It will be followed by the Women’s Worlds later this month and two final events from the lower divisions.
Tardif spoke with IIHF.com about the events of the last several months.
Looking back, was cancelling the World Juniors the best decision? Was there any other option?
Tardif: That was the right decision. It just wasn’t possible to have a regular competition that was fair to everybody, so we had no choice but to stop. At that time, we also didn’t know when or how the event could be played. All we knew was that we wanted to make the event safe.
When you cancelled the World Juniors, you vowed to play all cancelled events. Did you think that would be possible?
Tardif: By September all of the tournaments that were cancelled will have been played. It was not always so easy. We had to find the calendar time for all of the events, make sure the organizers could host, but in the end everybody played because everybody wanted to find a way. We worked together, for the men and the women, the juniors and the other programs, to make this happen. We were criticized last year, but now is the time to judge us. We did what we said we were going to do. This has been a difficult year, but we will complete our entire program, as we said we would.
Why not just cancel the 2022 World Juniors and move on to 2023?
Tardif: The World Juniors is a huge tournament, and it was important for those kids that we make every effort to play it properly. August is not a normal time, of course, but what we are very happy with is that all of the teams are taking this competition seriously. The best players are here, and they all want to win a medal, finish as well as they can, play their best, and we will have a true gold-medal champion. This is a regular and usual tournament, just at a different time of year. I’m happy we’re back in Edmonton, to finish what we began.
Unfortunately, the mood around the tournament isn’t all positive. What can you say about that?
Tardif: Of course, the atmosphere is different because of other matters. But that investigation is not over, so nobody knows all of the facts yet. Yes, it’s a bad situation to play a World Juniors, but our job is to arrange a competition. The players who are here have done no wrong. The organizing committee has worked hard. So hopefully, there will be no fallout during these games.
I don’t want to pretend nothing is going on. There is, and it’s very serious, but for now, let us organize a competition. The kids playing here deserve it.
Money or sport? What mattered more in your efforts to re-schedule the Juniors?
Tardif: Hockey Canada and the IIHF wanted to play. That’s it. And we talked to the other countries, and they all agreed – they wanted to play.
And I was upset when I read stories that we were motivated by money and profit. Nothing could be farther from the truth! If we wanted to make money, we never would have played in August. We had all our expenses from last year that we had to cover, for travel and hotels and other costs, and now we are incurring the same costs again without getting any more revenue.
We’re paying twice to have one tournament, and in August we won’t have the same revenue we normally would. But we were happy to come back to Edmonton because they have the arena, the experience, the infrastructure.
What are you most looking forward to about the “Summer Juniors”?
Tardif: During COVID-19, we learned one thing – if you make it to the end of the tournament, you’re happy. So when I’m handing out the gold medals, I’ll be happy.
But so far, everything is going smoothly. The organizing has been great and everyone is focused on the games. Our first Directorate meeting was also good, and the exhibition game went off very well. So far, it’s been like any other tournament, which is great. I hope the people of Alberta will also be enthusiastic for the event.
The World Juniors is a big-ticket item, but why did you also want to play the other cancelled events?
Tardif: This is another year after COVID-19. Remember, we lost most of 2021 as well, so for some events outside the top division, if we didn’t play them now, it would have been three years without a tournament. We think every event is important, and we need to think for everybody, not just some countries and some tournaments. Men, women, all divisions, it doesn’t matter.
We are the international federation that organizes World Championships every year. It is a “rendez-vous,” and for some countries, if they don’t play these tournaments, then hockey in their country won’t exist. But we also must look to the future and try to make these events more sustainable, and we are always asking ourselves how we can do better. This year after COVID-19, we just had to do it, make sure everyone had the opportunity to play. International competition is the pinnacle of participation.