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Alpine Ski World Cup Finals and IIHF Women’s Worlds fall victim to coronavirus

A general view during the 2019 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Super G in Cortina d'Ampezzo (by Francis Bompard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)

The coronavirus has claimed two major events in the winter sports sector with the International Ski Federation (FIS) and International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) cancelling their Alpine Ski World Cup Finals and Women’s World Championship, respectively.

The finale to the Alpine Ski World Cup season was due to be held in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, from March 16-22. Italy yesterday (Sunday) became the country with the highest number of confirmed coronavirus infections outside of China, where the outbreak originated in December, with authorities currently scrambling to contain its spread.

Italy’s Civil Protection agency said the number of people to have died from the coronavirus rose by 133 in a day to 366, with the total number of infections increasing by 25 per cent from 5,883 to 7,375. Measures introduced yesterday include people in Lombardy and 14 other provinces needing special permission to travel under new quarantine rules.

In a statement, the FIS said on the recommendation of its Council, the Italian Winter Sports Federation and its Cortina 2020 Organising Committee have been forced to withdraw their hosting rights due to the situation in Northern Italy, where there is a concentration of cases in the Veneto province in which Cortina is located.

The FIS said the main issue that steered the recommendation of the Council affecting the organisation of the Finals in Cortina was the travel restrictions imposed by an increasing number of national authorities, which would have likely limited the participation of several athletes.

“This was an extremely difficult decision for us to make, but ultimately welfare and health of the athletes, teams and everyone associated with the World Cup as well as the general public must be our top priority,” FIS president Gian-Franco Kasper said.

“This is certainly not the way we wanted the season to end without World Cup Finals, but we must respect this very serious situation. We look forward to recognising the winning athletes at a later date when we can properly celebrate their accomplishments.”

The Alpine Ski World Cup Finals in Cortina were also scheduled as the main test event for next season’s Alpine World Ski Championships, which were awarded to the town in June 2016.

Kasper added: “It is also disappointing that the Finals in Cortina cannot take place to showcase the outstanding upgraded venue and both the women’s and men’s courses in action. Despite this setback the preparations of the Italian Winter Sports Federation and the Local Organising Committee, together with our broadcast and marketing partner Infront, are fully on-track for what we are convinced will be exceptional FIS World Championships next year.”

Due to the lack of short-notice alternative locations to stage such a large event, and which do not have travel restrictions to enable all athletes to be able to participate or travel onwards after the event, the FIS said the Finals will not be replaced and this season’s titles will be confirmed after the last scheduled races in Are, Sweden and Kranjska Gora, Slovenia on March 15.

The FIS Council also discussed the 2020 Ski Flying World Championships, which are due to take place in Planica, Slovenia, from March 17-22. In view of the fact there are no travel restrictions for Slovenia, the Council unanimously agreed to continue with the preparations.

Meanwhile, the IIHF Council has agreed to cancel the 2020 Women’s World Championship, which was scheduled to be held in Halifax and Truro, Canada, from March 31 to April 10. The IIHF said the decision was made following a recommendation by public health experts. The number of coronavirus cases in Canada rose to 67 yesterday.

The IIHF said that, subject to formal approval by the IIHF Congress, the 2020 host cities will instead stage the 2021 Women’s World Championship. With the cancellation of the 2020 Women’s World Championship, the IIHF Council has also decided to cancel the Women’s World Championship Division I Group A tournament, scheduled to take place on April 12-18 in Angers, France.

“It is with great regret that we must take this action,” IIHF president René Fasel said. “It was not an easy decision to make, as we were greatly looking forward to hosting this tournament in Canada. Nevertheless, the decision has been made due to safety concerns for the well-being of players, officials, and spectators.

“Ultimately the IIHF Council feels that there has not been enough of an improvement to the coronavirus situation to allow us to safely host a 10-team international tournament within this timeframe. We look forward to coming to Canada in 2021.

“This decision will have an effect on the scheduling of the Women’s Olympic qualification tournaments. The IIHF Competition and Coordination Committee will review the implications of this cancellation and propose recommendations to the Council.”

The IIHF Council will reconvene in mid-March and re-evaluate the coronavirus situation and the capability of tournament organisers to host World Championship events in April. However, it added that the decision to cancel the Women’s World Championship does not influence the planning for this year’s men’s World Championship, which remains on schedule to be held in Lausanne and Zurich, Switzerland, from May 8-24.

The Women’s World Championship has been cancelled under similar circumstances once before. The 2003 Championship in Beijing was axed due to the SARS outbreak in China.