ZURICH – If you're goal is to develop ice hockey around the world, four years doesn’t seem as long a time as for most people. So for the newly-elected IIHF Council, which held its first meeting last week in Zurich, a four-year window of opportunity means that it’s time to go to work.
IIHF.com sat down with IIHF President René Fasel following the Council meeting. Fasel is entering his sixth term as IIHF President and will try to deliver on a campaign platform based on four main objectives: continued efforts to improve player safety, focused development in Asia, a revised governance structure, and an improved ice hockey calendar.
The IIHF Council, the federation’s executive body, is the first step in setting the policies that will achieve these goals. But with a membership comprising over 70 countries at different levels of development, Fasel and the rest of the IIHF Council have their work cut out for them in the next four years.
How was the first meeting of the new IIHF Council?
Excellent, I was impressed by the fact that the council came in to Zurich and was ready to get started right away. We immediately went to work discussing the upcoming season and our goals for the next four years.
What were the main topics of discussion in the new council meeting?
We needed to determine the new structure of the IIHF Committees and also to assign chairmen to each committee. There was some lively conversation about who should chair which committee, which was encouraging to see as it shows that our new Council is enthusiastic about finding new ways to improve the sport.
What were your first impressions of the group?
This is a dynamic group. We have a great mix of young and old members and I think that this will help to bring in new ideas and energy while still benefiting from the years of experience from our more senior IIHF Council members.
There are five new Council members voted in this year, what kind of benefits do you feel the IIHF can draw from having so many fresh faces at the executive level?
The biggest benefit I see right now is the fact that we have great experience coming from all levels of the sport.
We have true international hockey legends like Franz Reindl and Petr Briza. Franz will be involved in many big ice hockey events this year, he is serving as the president of Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey and also as CEO of the 2017 IIHF World Championship Organizing Committee. Petr helped to put together one the best organized IIHF World Championship tournaments in recent memory in 2015. He is also very active with European club hockey and so is a voice we need to have.
Marta Zawadzka has many years of experience as an ice hockey referee and also brings tons of event experience, not just in hockey but other sports as well. Sergej Gontcharov was a key player in bringing the IIHF World Championship to Belarus for the first time in history, and even though he is our youngest Council member his experience at the executive level is second to none.
And of course we are so very fortunate to be able to count Ron DeGregorio among our Council. He has guided USA Hockey as president for so many years and knows a thing or two about development. His experience, beginning as a player then as a coach, owner, and administrator, is invaluable to the IIHF.
Have there been any “hot topics” discussed early on?
The committee structure discussions had some fun moments (laughs), but everyone is on the same page now, and we have now made the call out to our federations to submit candidates to fill in the committee positions.
What are your main goals that you would like to achieve in the next four years?
In my speech to Congress I outlined my platform for the next four years. The first goal is improved player safety. There is an unprecedented level of focus on player safety by our sport's biggest stakeholders, which is great to see. However we can always do better to protect our athletes, because without them there is no game.
The IIHF is in a unique position here. There has already been some great work that has been done in player safety by some of our member national associations as well as any other stakeholders within the ice hockey family, and we need to create a platform where we can collect and share this info to all countries. The goal here is to shift the culture to a more responsible and safety-oriented approach. That said, we do not want to change what makes ice hockey such a great sport to watch, we want to enhance the skill while preserving the health of the athlete.
What else is on the agenda?
We have a tremendous opportunity to build and promote ice hockey development in Asia. With the next two Winter Olympics coming up in Korea and China, coupled with the KHL presence in China and the development of a Chinese hockey league, we must double our efforts to ensure ice hockey gains a strong foothold in the Far East.
I also want to build a comprehensive ice hockey calendar that works for both the leagues and federations and continue to seek the best ways in which the IIHF can improve player safety.
As an international sports federation and in accordance with the IOC’s new mandate, we must also review out governance structure in order to improve the transparency and strengthen the integrity of the IIHF. Achieving these goals within the next four years will be a challenge, but I am encouraged by the motivation and resolve of this new Council to get these done.
Do you believe that hitting these four targets is a realistic goal?
Yes, it’s a challenge no doubt but an achievable one. Player safety is an evolving mission, with new studies being released and improved equipment being developed at a faster pace the IIHF needs to stay informed and keep its membership informed of the best methods to protect players on and off the ice.
The review of the governance structure must be done in time for the next Winter Olympics, so we have a hard deadline that must be adhered to. We have already begun this process by nominating a Governance Reform Group under Chairman Ron DeGregorio.
How do you reach out and involve all of the national associations in the decision-making process?
It’s not easy, this is why we have the IIHF Annual and Semi-Annual Congresses each year. But even with these we haven’t been able to achieve the sort of inclusiveness we want in our federation.
So for the next Semi-Annual Congress in Paris the Council decided to go with a different format. Rather than opening up the Congress right away all the participating member national associations will take part in a massive workshop, with the goal of giving the messages of the new Council to the Delegates but also to encourage them to offer direct comment and input.
What is the purpose of the IIHF committees?
Our committees serve as our “think-tanks”, independent groups that meet through the year and develop new ideas and projects to improve international ice hockey and the IIHF.
We bring in representatives from all levels of the sport and from all corners of the world to serve on these committees, so it helps to give a voice to all our federations so that they can have input at the project-development level.
We are looking forward to the next four years, which should be very busy ones for the IIHF Council and the Committees as we continue to build up the international game.