Since the pandemic started, the country of New Zealand has not once been afraid to enact strict measures to protect its people from the spread of COVID-19. They locked down their borders early, ensured that its population was being vaccinated, and locked down their people in order to prevent any unnecessary spread from the few cases they did experience. There were many who felt that the lockdown was justified as long as it meant returning to normal faster, and that’s exactly what happened. With double-vaccination rates over 90% and one of the lowest per-capita death rates from COVID-19, New Zealanders were able to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve together rather than living with limits.
If there’s one facet of New Zealand’s rules that has suffered because of the strict enforcement, it seems to be their national sports teams. New Zealand has not been competing on the world stage since the pandemic started due to the risk of athletes bringing the virus back to New Zealand, and it was announced this week that New Zealand’s national hockey teams would again skip international competitions in 2022 as the world continues to grapple with the virus.
“This was a sad but necessary decision as it means both teams have now missed three World Championship events in a row due to the global pandemic. However, the health and safety of all players and staff is the number-one consideration for the NZIHF, and that at this time it would not be a responsible decision to send the teams overseas, “said NZIHF President Andy Mills.
The announcement today means that New Zealand has withdrawn their men’s senior and men’s U18 national teams for the events in April. With the senior team withdrawing from the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division-II Group B tournament in Reykjavik, Iceland, the event will go ahead with five teams as Belgium, Iceland, Georgia, Mexico, and Bulgaria will determine which team advances to the Group A tournament in 2023.
The U18 team was supposed to play in the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division-III Group B tournament in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina, leaving just four teams to play as Hong Kong, South Africa, Luxembourg, and Bosnia-Herzegovina look for a winner.
Back in December, it was announced that the New Zealand women’s team would withdraw from playing in the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division-II Group B tournament. With their three major national teams on the sidelines for 2022, it would seem that the only hockey that New Zealanders will see is from the New Zealand domestic league.
If there’s a concern about New Zealand opting out of major tournaments once again, it’s on the development side where you’re hoping to see these men and women get better in the sport to help New Zealand ascend the ranks of the IIHF. None of the New Zealand teams are close to the top level of play on the international stage, so seeing these teams opt out of another year of competing means another year they will not get to play against the world’s best. Let’s hope it does not set New Zealand back any further on the hockey front.
I can not fault the NZIHF for looking out for the health and safety of its players, though. Let me be very clear that New Zealand has always stressed that the health and safety of its citizens would come first before anything else, and they have continued to follow that playbook since the pandemic started without any hesitation. The NZIHF is clearly working in lock-step with its government, and it’s refreshing to see a hockey governing body stressing health and safety over its own interests.
I just hope that the players who are building New Zealand’s legacy on the international hockey stage are not forgotten when this is all over. Those are the players who deserve one last big tournament if their careers are winding down, and you hope that there will be a spot for them to wesar the national team jersey for New Zealand once more before they retire from the game.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!