IIHF canceling January events, including U18 Women's World Championships

The International Ice Hockey Federation is canceling all of its January events because of the rise in COVID-19 cases, the organization announced Friday.

The cancellations include the 2022 U18 Women's World Championships in Sweden, marking it the second straight year the IIHF will not have staged the tournament.

The IIHF, meanwhile, held the 2021 U18 Men's World Championships in Texas and has the 2022 U18 men's event still scheduled for April in Germany. The IIHF also has staged its U20 Men's World Junior Championships in each of the past two seasons, including the 2022 tournament, which is just getting underway in Edmonton, Alberta. There is no women's equivalent of the U20 tournament.

The IIHF said in a release that the decision to cancel the January tournaments was based on a recommendation from the organization's medical committee.

Federations began notifying players Thursday of the cancellation, sources said.

The news upset many players, who believe the coronavirus pandemic has widened the gender gap in the sport and that the IIHF routinely prioritizes men's programming over women's.

Said Kendall Coyne Schofield on Twitter: "The IIHF has prioritized & held top division men's events during the pandemic but the top division women's events - cancelled - again. UNACCEPTABLE. Figure out how to safely play the U18 Worlds this season, just like the U18 men & #WorldJuniors. These players DESERVE to play too."

"Embarrassing @iihfhockey," U.S. Women's National Team forward Abby Roque posted to her Instagram story on Thursday. "Fix this."

Added Canadian national team member Erin Ambrose: "Why is it automatically a cancellation? We understand the concerns regarding health and safety but why is a postponement not considered for these women as the men's tournaments continue without hesitation? #equalityinsport"

The IIHF said in its release that it was not possible to reschedule the women's under-18 championship "due to league commitments within Sweden."

IIHF communications manager Adam Steiss said the men's world junior championship is going ahead while the January tournaments have been canceled because "the epidemiological situation changed drastically only after the [men's] U20 players entered quarantine."

"The medical committee's recommendation took into account the travel risks that the teams playing in the January tournaments would have faced, and the belief that the tournament organizers would not have been able to safely manage an outbreak," Steiss said in an email to The Canadian Press.

Some lower-tier men's and women's tournaments also are among the January cancellations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.