The 2021 ISU World Figure Skating Championships will take place in Stockholm, Sweden on Monday and carry through until March 28th, and the skating community seems to be torn between feelings of both excitement and apprehension about next week’s event amid an ongoing worldwide pandemic.
After a year of COVID-19 cancellations and trading in international, grand-scale competitions for local events, the ISU was eager to confirm on Jan. 28 that worlds would indeed be happening, and that they would be a crucial Olympic qualifying event.
The number of national entries for next year’s 2022 Beijing Winter Games will be decided on the placements in Stockholm.
"We did not believe that worlds would take place. We didn't expect to have another competition,” said Canadian pair skater Kirsten Moore-Towers. "Once we knew it was an Olympic qualifier, we knew for sure that we were going to do it.”
Moore-Towers, along with her pairs partner Michael Marinaro, will be competing next week for the first time in over a year alongside the rest of Team Canada.
Various international skaters will also be in attendance next week, including American Olympian and two-time world champion Nathan Chen.
While Chen is happy about the opportunity to compete again, he’s expressed his concerns about the ISU holding a worldwide, Olympic-qualifying competition while countries in Europe and the rest of the world are approaching third waves of COVID-19.
“Ultimately, I will be there to compete, but I still have my worries about getting sick,” Chen told NBC, “I don’t want to get sick...I want everyone to stay healthy during this competition.”
And Chen isn’t the only one worried.
The trending hashtag #NoQuarantineNoWorlds has circulated Twitter over the past few weeks, a plea from the skating community to the ISU to either make adjustments to their health and safety COVID-19 protocols or cancel the event altogether.
A petition under the same name has also launched, outlining the various health and safety risks and flaws in the ISU’s 11-page set of guidelines for hosting figure skating events during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some of the points listed on the petition include the lack of a quarantine period for athletes and staff upon arrival into Sweden, a waiver declaring that the ISU “will not be held liable for any COVID-related damages” that skaters must sign in order to compete, and the commercial airline and airport travel arrangement for teams flying internationally.
“I’m not going to lie and say I’m not [concerned about the trip],” Chen said, “Connections are still an issue…and on international flights, people will be taking off their masks to eat. Bathrooms are always sketchy.”
The petition demands a mandatory 14-day quarantine for athletes and staff prior to the competition that is arranged and paid for by the ISU, as well as an alternate way to qualify for Olympic spots “so skaters can withdraw with fewer consequences.”
Some big-name skaters have opted out of the competition, such as French Olympian and four-time world champion ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeronn and Russian figure skater Alina Zagitova.
Others don’t have that luxury, especially if they’re hoping to clinch a spot on their national Olympic teams, like Moore-Towers and Marinaro.
With only a few days to go, worlds looks like it's happening after all, whether or not the skating community is happy about it.
At this point, all we can do is sit back, watch the show, and fear more for the athletes’ health and safety than worry about their placements in the competition.
You can watch the 2021 ISU World Figure Skating Championships on NBC, NBCSN and the Peacock app in the United States, and CBC in Canada.