Potential Worlds format change highlights Day 1
By Lucas Aykroyd
VANCOUVER, Canada -- September 20, -- As the IIHF Semi-Annual Congress kicked off in Vancouver, Canada today, perhaps the biggest news for hockey fans and member federations was the possibility of seeing the IIHF World Championship go from 16 to 14 participating teams.
"We are looking at the possibility of going to 14 teams, divided into two groups of seven," Sports Committee Chairman and IIHF Vice President Kalervo Kummola confirmed. No timeline for the potential change was specified. But if the the next congress approves the Sports Committee proposal, the new format could be in place possibly for 2010 (Germany), 2011 (Slovakia) or 2012 (Finland).
"But nothing is written in stone, said Kummola. We may be looking at other options as well."
Overall, delegates were elated to be in the country that will host the 2008 IIHF World Championship (Quebec City and Halifax, May 1-18).
"It's great to be back in Canada after many, many years," said IIHF President René Fasel, chairing the proceedings at the Westin Bayshore Hotel.
Fasel noted that for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the most in-demand events currently are men's hockey, the opening ceremonies, the closing ceremonies, and women's hockey. It illustrates the ever-deepening passion Canada brings to its national sport.
In his opening remarks, however, Fasel emphasized the IIHF's concern about the continuing drain of talent from Europe to North America. "This year we lost about 57 players from Europe who signed NHL contracts," said Fasel. "However, only seven or eight will play in the NHL, and the rest will disappear in the minor leagues. It's very important that we can keep good players in Europe to keep the level as high as possible."
Here are some other Day One highlights:
++ Five countries presented their bids, complete with elaborate audio-visual presentations, to host the 2013 IIHF World Championship: Belarus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, and Sweden.
The Swedes, hoping to host for the first time since 2002 in Stockholm and Malmo, brought some star power to the Congress with four current Vancouver Canucks (captain Markus Näslund, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and Mattias Ohlund) and one former star (Thomas Gradin, now a team scout) on hand to lobby for their country. "I was asked if we could help out, since we're all here anyway," said Gradin, who last wore the Tre Kronor jersey in Vancouver in the 1984 Canada Cup when Sweden beat Canada for the first time since the 1962 Worlds in Colorado Springs. "Hosting is always a big boost for the host country. Economically, it's the best thing that can happen." Added Ohlund: "Hockey is big in Sweden, and I'm sure the fans would love to see hockey at that level. It's been quite a few years since we've hosted, so it would be a big thing if it happens."
Latvia promised a tournament that would be even better than Riga 2006, and highlighted a new 7,500 arena under construction that would serve as the secondary venue. The Czechs were hoping to replicate the success of 2004 when Prague and Ostrava combined for a record attendance of 552,097, and therefore announced plans to return to those two cities if their bid is successful. Hungary focused on the beautiful setting in Budapest and the possibility of building its national hockey tradition, which stretches back 80 years, as well as popularizing the game among children.
The Belarus bid centered on growing the game in this former Soviet republic, with a new 15,000-seat arena scheduled for completion in 2008 in Minsk. National team head coach Curt Fraser, who spent four and a half of his 12 NHL seasons with Vancouver, gave a passionate speech. Afterwards, he told IIHF.com: "I was looking forward to coming back to North America this year, and I had some nice offers, but for some reason, Belarus just pulled me right back. Great kids, good people, and they're really trying to improve. To make that presentation and hopefully have the chance to bring the 2013 World Championship to Belarus is a real honor."
++ Fasel noted that in the past, 1,000,000 Swiss francs were paid by the organizers of each World Championship to cover travel and insurance costs for participating players. Due to increased costs and the continuing escalation of NHL salaries, that amount will be raised to 2,000,000 francs.
++ Kummola stated that as of the 2008 IIHF World Championship, playing time will count down on the clock instead of up (as in the NHL) to make it easier to keep track of timekeeping issues, especially with penalties.
++ Medical Committee Chairman Murray Costello announced that a special conference in conjunction with the Canadian Association for Sports Medicine will be held in Vancouver in June 2009. He urged the member federations to make sure they budget to send their chief medical officers to the conference, which will feature leading-edge information from international experts, with a special focus on team sports and at least 1-1.5 days on hockey-specific concerns.
++ Costello said since the last Congress IIHF referee camps have included full medical assessments for on-ice officials, and everyone has passed. He urged national federations to make sure they conduct similar testing on their top-league referees to miminize the chances of any serious problems that could occur on the ice.
++ Costello, on behalf of the Technical Committee, said the IIHF will publish a new book on how to build a high-end hockey arena capable of hosting Olympic or World Championship competitions. "We intend to get information from specialists inside and outside hockey, for everything from cameras overhead the ice to caring for media to the minimum number of dressing rooms, plus dozens of other things," he said.
++ Legal Committee Chairman Frederick Meredith said the IIHF will continue to closely monitor the implications of the EU White Paper on Sport and join other international sports federations in promoting the authority of national governing bodies and courts.
++ Phil Pritchard of the Hockey Hall of Fame made a presentation highlighting initiatives to celebrate the IIHF's 100th anniversary in 2008, including the kick-off of the IIHF Images (a photobank accessible to federations, media and the public) and the launch of the commemorative book World of Hockey: Celebrating a Century of the IIHF (Fenn, November 13).
++ Calgary will be the host city for the inaugural World Women's U18 championship, with the USA, Canada, and six European nations participating in January 2008.
++ After a review, Armenia and Greece have retained their status within the IIHF, and will take part in a qualification tournament with Bosnia-Herzegovina prior to the 2008 Division III championship in Luxembourg.