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Despite sexual assault allegations, Hockey Canada proceeds with Hosting the 2022 World Junior Championships

Nearly eight months after the tournament was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships finally kicked off in Edmonton, Alta., earlier this week.

The annual under-20 ice hockey tournament was originally scheduled to take place between Dec. 26, 2021, and January 5, 2022 in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., but was curtailed due to COVID-19 positive tests on multiple teams.

The competition is an opportunity for nations to show off their very best hockey prospects — and for many teams, their success in the competition is a source of pride. 

This is especially true for the hockey-mad nation of Canada, which has won a record 18 World Junior championships and has hosted 5 of the last 8 tournaments. Some of the nation’s — and the sport’s — greatest players have participated in the World Juniors, including Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby.

But what was once a source of national joy and entertainment has recently turned into a black spot in the nation’s hockey history.

In May 2022, TSN’s Rick Westhead investigated a Hockey Canada settlement with a young woman who alleges that she was sexually assaulted by a group of the Canadian Hockey League players in 2018. The group allegedly included members of that year’s World Juniors-winning Canada team.

The investigation led to a parliamentary inquiry in Ottawa, and Minister of Sport Pascale St. Onge freezing funding from the federal government pending an investigation.

A couple of months later, Halifax police opened an investigation into an allegation of a separate group sexual assault in 2003, this time involving members of Canada’s 2003 World Juniors team.

The findings have resulted in several sponsors pausing or withdrawing sponsorships to the organization, and the revelation that Hockey Canada has paid out $8.9 million in sexual abuse settlements since 1989.

It’s also culminated in the resignation of at least one board member: Michael Brind’Amour as chair of Hockey Canada’s board of directors, effective immediately.

“Immediate action is essential to address the important challenges facing our organization and our sport,”

Brind’Amour said through a Hockey Canada news release.

These past few months have left a great stain on Hockey Canada’s reputation, both within Canada and abroad. It’s brought the organization’s accountability into question, and it’s turned a sport that was once seen as a national honour into a theatre of embarrassment and shame that not even hockey-obsessed families want to be involved in.

“I’m not sure why you would want to accept an invitation to participate in one of Hockey Canada’s events, given that it’s been tarnished with this history,”

Beatrice van Dijk, a mother of four daughters who played hockey in Toronto, told CBC

With that in mind, one has to wonder why Hockey Canada and the International Ice Hockey Federation went ahead with continuing to host the tournament in Edmonton, even after all of these revelations.

The tournament used to have wall-to-wall media coverage across all outlets. It used to boast high fan attendance numbers too, with sold-out crowds being a norm, especially for hometown Canada games. A young player’s reputation could be boosted considerably with a good performance in the tournament, even if the player in question never developed into anything special. (I’m looking at you, Justin Pogge.)

This year? Thousands of tickets are still available for the 2022 World Juniors, and coverage of the tournament is so scarce that a 6-point performance by Mason McTavish — just the third 6-point performance by a Canadian World Junior player ever — is not getting much attention outside of the ice hockey circle.

As if racism and religious discrimination weren’t serious enough problems for hockey to grapple with, the recent revelations into Hockey Canada’s cover-ups highlight key issues around sexism, player safety and player accountability — and whether the country’s governing hockey body is really capable of dealing with these heavy, systemic issues.

With the World Juniors continuing on like nothing happened, Hockey Canada and the International Ice Hockey Federation seems to be sending a clear message: the sexual assault allegations are bad, but hockey carries on.

The IIHF Hall of Fame has been hosted by the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto since 1998.

Of course, as someone who has worked in and regularly covers sports, I understand these tournaments and games take a lot of time — sometimes years — to prepare for. It takes more than a snap of the fingers to put a tournament on hold, move it to a new country or cancel it entirely. 

But this is a red alert situation that has been in the public eye for months. Pushing on with this tournament while Hockey Canada grapples with its sins and silences feels tasteless of both organizations — especially given how often women’s hockey tournaments have been postponed and cancelled in the past.

This should be a time for hockey organizations to step back, reassess and re-evaluate their roles in silencing ice hockey’s hyper-sexualized toxic culture. 

This should be a time for hockey organizations to send a clear message to hockey families across Canada and the world that these situations involving horrific sexual abuse will not be ignored or glossed over. 

This should be a time for, as Brind’Amour said, “immediate action.”

Instead, the World Juniors in Canada carries on, and the aftermath of the sexual assault allegations plaguing Hockey Canada is being forced to sit on the sidelines.

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