GOYANG – With media interest in hockey rising in Korea, IIHF President René Fasel and IIHF Vice President Thomas Wu answered journalists’ questions on Saturday.
Fasel, who is also an IOC Executive Board Member, arrived in Korea on Thursday where he will attend meetings after the tournament as a member of the PyeongChang 2018 Coordination Committee, while Wu has been in Goyang since last week chairing the tournament directorate of the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A.
Thomas Wu on the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A:
It’s the first time the IIHF had this competition in Korea. It’s a high-level competition and we have seen throughout the tournament that the organizers met all the requirements and the teams and the IIHF are very happy and the teams play at a high level. We are very happy with the organizing committee and the Korean Ice Hockey Association for what they have done here. This event was organized very well and by a hard-working staff.
It’s great to see that the Korean fans are learning more about ice hockey and that they were cheering so much on their team especially in the last game against Japan. Asian players often are less physical compared to Europeans. In the next few years the Korean team needs to become stronger and have more opportunities to train to prepare for the Olympics.
René Fasel on his first impressions and hockey in Asia:
I thank the Korean Ice Hockey Association for organizing the tournament. It was a good test for Korea to have this tournament organized here. We are pleased to have the Olympic Winter Games in 2018 in Korea. We put a lot of effort in Asian hockey with Thomas Wu as our Vice President and our Asian office in Hong Kong with Harald Springfeld. We have 17 members on this side of the world and we are doing the best we can to develop our sport in Asia.
René Fasel on the fan base in Korea:
It’s a new sport for many fans here. We had spectators and a good atmosphere here even if the home team didn’t win. That’s why we put a lot of effort in promoting the game in Asia.
René Fasel on Korea participating in the 2018 Olympics:
It’s the wish of the federation that the host team can participate in the Winter Olympics. That’s a goal and that’s why we are here but we have to be careful not to have lopsided results too. That’s a challenge especially if we have NHL players coming. There’s no sense for the Korean team to be in PyeongChang and lose 15-0 against Canada, the USA or Russia.
The Korean team is on a good road although people are disappointed they couldn’t perform as expected here but we will have meetings about that. Our recommendation to the Korean Ice Hockey Association for a free entry is that the men’s national team needs to be 18th or better in the World Ranking. But there are still different ways to go. They can go through the qualification or they could have a free entry. But they need to improve and present a program that can fit.
The road to PyeongChang is three-and-a-half years and it’s a challenge. We are here to do everything possible that Korea can compete. We have a good team with President [Mongwon] Chung. We are not there yet but they work very hard.
We need to have this discussion with the Koreans and the IOC and to discuss with the responsible people how we can improve Korean hockey. I’m confident that Korea will improve. You are fighters. But you need to work very hard. It’s not just for PyeongChang, Korea needs a 10-year program and now China is bidding for 2022 too. You need time to develop and time is flying so fast.
Thomas Wu on long-term development of Korean hockey:
For the hockey program it’s a long-term objective. You need to give players opportunities to play and develop coaches. The top players in the world play about 100 top-level games (each year). That gives a perspective what needs to be done. The national team needs to be together more often and play and prepare. It’s a whole program. There are maybe some missing elements.
We saw from other countries that successful programs are not built overnight. We hope that in the next three-and-a-half years the improvements in Korean hockey will be visible through the players.
René Fasel on NHL participation in PyeongChang 2018:
Since Nagano 1998 we have always been discussing with the NHL and NHLPA. It’s a challenge but we had a very good experience in Sochi 2014 and it was organized perfectly for the athletes. There’s a wish from the players to go to PyeongChang but we will have discussions. The players have the final say. If they say ‘no’ there is no need for negotiations with anybody. Our goal is to make the decision as soon as possible because if there are no NHL players in PyeongChang we need to prepare Canada and the USA to have a team without the NHL.