Protesting amateur rules, Canada leaves international hockey
January 3-4, 1970 — Geneva, Switzerland
The 1970 IIHF World Championship was scheduled for Canada, for the first time. The games were to be held in Winnipeg and Montreal. A new organization, Hockey Canada (not to be confused with today’s association with the same name), was convened in March 1969 in Toronto to select the best team possible to represent the country at home. The reason for this meeting was obvious. The first nation of hockey was becoming painfully aware that their amateur players were no longer able to compete successfully against the best European national teams. In the six world championships since 1964, Canada managed to win the bronze three times, remaining without medals at other tournaments.
Canada’s representatives at the IIHF Congress in March 1969 in Stockholm opened a discussion about the joint participation of amateurs and professionals. It continued at the summer congress in July 1969 in Crans-sur-Sierre, Switzerland. This assembly was attended by an unusually large Canadian delegation of 15 people, headed by the National Hockey League president Clarence Campbell. A documentary about professional hockey was also shown with Canada’s prime minister addressing the congress with a proposal to make the world championships open.
The vote on the “open championships” was divided. Some 20 delegates voted in favour and 30 against the proposal. The congress, however, decided to allow nine professionals in the national teams as an experiment for one year, provided that the players were not from NHL teams, but from minor-pro clubs. When this latter resolution was under discussion, the vote was indecisive with IIHF President John “Bunny” Ahearne tipping the balance in its favour. It was thus decided that amateur status would be given to the players who had left professional hockey six weeks prior to the championships as opposed to six months as had been the practice previously.
At the annual Izvestija Tournament in Moscow in December 1969, Canada tested the new “pro-rule”. Although playing with only five of the nine allotted professional players, the team finished second but most importantly, they managed a significant 2-2 tie with the Soviet Union.
Today, it’s not clear how much this surprise score affected the rest of the hockey world, but when hockey’s top nations met again in Geneva, Switzerland in January 1970, new tensions emerged between the IIHF leadership and the Canadian organizing committee.
In the end, the Canadians were prohibited from using professional players altogether. IOC President Avery Brundage was strongly opposed to amateurs and professionals competing together, and he made clear to the IIHF that a violation of this code would jeopardize ice hockey’s status as an Olympic sport.
The Canadians reacted by not only declining to host the 1970 tournament, but also by withdrawing from international hockey altogether. On January 4, 1970 Health and Welfare minister John Munroe officially announced Canada was withdrawing from international hockey competition, wowing not to return until an open competition was accepted.
This unfortunate development had a detrimental effect on the progress of hockey in the world. The eight years without Canadian participation was with no doubt the darkest period in the history of the IIHF. It could be compared to soccer's World Cup without Brazil or international basketball without the USA. During this period Canada forfeited participation in seven World Championships as well as in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics.
The Canadian sports authorities and a vast majority of the fans supported Canadian hockey’s decision to withdraw. They couldn’t understand why Canada was not allowed to dress a handful of former NHLers, while the Soviet and Czechoslovak teams were stocked with full-time professionals from their top league.
Canada would to return to the world championships eight years later, in 1977, when the IIHF and the sporting world were ready to adopt modern eligibility rules that didn’t make any distinction between amateurs and professionals.
About the Top 100 Stories
As part of the IIHF's 100th anniversary celebrations, www.IIHF.com is featuring the 100 top international hockey stories from the past century (1908-2008). Starting now and continuing through the 2008 IIHF World Championships in Canada, we will bring you approximately three stories a week counting down from Number 100 to Number 11.
The Final Top 10 Countdown will be one of the highlights of the IIHF's Centennial Gala Evening in Quebec City on May 17, the day prior to the Gold Medal Game of the 2008 World Championship.
These are the criteria for inclusion on this list: First, the story has to have had a considerable influence on international hockey. Second, it has to have had either a major immediate impact or a long-lasting significance on the game. Third, although it doesn't necessarily have to be about top players, the story does have to pertain to the highest level of play, notably Olympics, World Championships, and the like. The story can be about a single moment — a goal, a great save, a referee's call — or about an historic event of longer duration — a game, series, tournament, or rule change.