Why the players were masked for the ROC vs Canada hockey game

The concern was most evident in the masks, those worn suddenly on the benches, by referees and, singularly, by women playing Olympic hockey in Beijing on Monday.

The Games, long masked by rhetoric about sportsmanship, shared values ​​and unity, veered into an open display of suspicion when doubts over coronavirus testing for Russia’s women’s hockey team led to a delay 65 minutes of a game against Canada. When the game finally started, it did so under a health precaution rarely seen in elite competition: everyone wore a mask.

The episode, which the International Ice Hockey Federation officially attributed to “security concerns”, was also a glimpse of Western skepticism of a Russian Olympic fixture that has a long history of bending or breaking rules, especially with regard to doping.

Although Canadian officials avoided accusing their Russian counterparts of misconduct, they had reason to be concerned. The Russian team spent part of the last week in quarantine after a series of positive tests within the team.

“We wanted to make sure everyone who participated was healthy and to make sure we reduced the risk, so we just decided to wear a mask,” said Rebecca Johnston, a Canadian striker, of her decision. team to play with masks under their face shields. When asked if the Canadians feared active cases in the Russian team, she replied: “I think we weren’t sure what was going on.

Sports leagues around the world insist that viral transmission is unlikely during competitions, and cases directly linked to matches are said to be rare. Yet with stringent health protocols in effect at the Games, where Chinese authorities imposed a so-called bubble to separate Olympic participants from the general population, Canadians apparently saw no reason to take a risk, especially for a team that should be in contention for the gold medal.

There were indications that the Russian team remained affected by the virus. Players were missing from its bench, and Alexandra Vafina, a striker, suggested the squad were still subject to Olympic protocols for close contact, which call for twice-daily testing.

The team, Vafina said, “was trying to follow all these strict rules and prevent any spread of disease.” Another player, Anna Shibanova, suggested lab delays may have contributed to the timing of the team’s latest results, which came during the game.

Yevgeni Bobariko, the Russian coach, said he was told the Canadian team had requested that both teams wear masks. He added that he did not feel a “shadow of distrust”.

Both teams wore masks until early in the third period, when the Russians returned to the ice without face coverings. Natalie Spooner, a Canadian player, said she was told the Russian team’s test results then came back negative. Canada was leading 4-1 at the time and opted to stay hidden.

“It was as simple as, ‘We wore it for 40, let’s wear it for another 20,'” Canada coach Troy Ryan said. “If health and safety is a concern, it just doesn’t change.”

A Russian television channel has accused the international federation, which administers the Olympic tournament, of “unilaterally” changing testing procedures ahead of Monday’s match.

In response to a request for comment on the claim, a spokesperson said the federation “did not change any of the testing protocols during the tournament.” In a separate statement, the federation said the match had been delayed “with a view to ensuring the teams’ full understanding of the health and safety measures in place”.

Canadian players said they sometimes practiced in masks.

“It’s a little harder to see the puck if it’s getting in the way,” Spooner said. “But I would say the biggest difference is just talking. You have to speak a lot louder so everyone can hear you on the ice.

Catherine J. Martinez