Lecturers are suspicious of the fairness, financial affect of Edmonton as an NHL hub

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Edmonton’s selection as an NHL hub city raises questions about equity and limited economic benefit, say two academics

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Jason Herring Rogers Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers, in downtown Edmonton on Sunday, July 12, 2020. Edmonton and Toronto officially opened as return hubs on Friday, July 10, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic named by the National Hockey League. Rogers Place, home of the Edmonton Oilers, in downtown Edmonton on Sunday, July 12, 2020. Edmonton and Toronto officially opened as return hubs on Friday, July 10, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic named by the National Hockey League. Photo by Larry Wong / Postmedia

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Edmonton’s selection as an NHL hub city raises questions of equity and limited economic benefit, say two academics who throw cold water on the Alberta hockey relaunch.

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Despite being a huge hockey fan, Dr. University of Alberta Public Health Specialist Hakique Virani, Edmonton’s pick next to Toronto to host the NHL postseason for failure amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

He says that while the rules on “bubbles” and social distancing are “as good as you can expect,” a major sporting event that hits the provincial capital during a pandemic, Albertans could send the wrong message.

“The unintended message is that the community broadcast isn’t big enough to say no to hockey playoffs,” said Virani. “People might take it as a sign that the pandemic is over.”

Beyond the tangled news, Virani said, hosting hundreds for playoffs amid the pandemic has an equity impact. Is it fair for public health officials to discourage people from hosting a wedding, attending a funeral, or visiting loved ones in nursing homes while hockey players are in a full contact tournament?

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“We expected people to understand that in the midst of a global pandemic, we cannot make arrangements for all of these activities,” Virani said. “The question people might ask is, if we are making sacrifices in the interests of the common good and public health, what is more important about hockey than my family, my job and my life?”

Dr.  Hakique Virani on Thursday October 6, 2016. Dr. Hakique Virani on Thursday October 6, 2016. Photo by Gavin Young / Postmedia

The NHL officially named Edmonton a hub on Friday after being championed by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and the Oilers Entertainment Group.

The postseason is slated to begin in Edmonton on August 1, with the Stanley Cup possibly being awarded in the city in October. However, some details are not yet finalized as the NHL cancels a press conference in Edmonton on Saturday amid ongoing talks with the federal government.

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In a video message on Friday, Kenney promoted Alberta’s pandemic response in winning the host city bid.

He estimated the selection would create 2,000 jobs and $ 16 million in economic activity in Edmonton.

“That alone won’t turn our economy around, but it’s a great shot in the arm,” said Kenney.

But Concordia University lifelong Calgary Flames fan and sports economist Moshe Lander said that while it is true that some economic stimulus is better than nothing, Kenney’s numbers require some “creative math.”

About 1,000 people could come to town for the playoffs, some of whom may already be living in Alberta. When the tournament progresses and the teams are eliminated, the players will return home.

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“After a few weeks, there’ll only be a few hundred people left,” Lander said. “We’re really talking about small economic impacts and we’re not leaving the city free for them. It’s not like they go shopping in the West Edmonton Mall. “

Lander added that the jobs created will likely be temporary, with the tournament expected to be completed within about three months of the teams’ arrival.

“I don’t see any sense in the significant impact of these numbers,” he said.

Virani said players should also consider the potential long-term health effects of contracting COVID-19. So he believes Flames defender Travis Hamonic’s decision to be eliminated from the tournament was the right one.

“We are learning more and more that the (after-effects) of COVID are not insignificant,” he said. “You don’t have a lot of space in competitive hockey to have breathing problems.

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“Actually, I’m very worried about an ice hockey player in my twenties contracting COVID and the effects on his short career.”

Edmonton will host twelve NHL Western Conference teams, including the Flames and the hometown Oilers.

The city, along with Toronto, was selected from a list of about 10 candidates after rising COVID-19 cases in the United States forced the league to search north of the border.

Other contested cities included Vancouver, which was disregarded in late June, with British Columbia Prime Minister John Horgan saying the province will “not bend the rules of public health guidelines” to conform to the NHL .

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Twitter: @jasonferring

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