Duel for 2018

Denmark, Latvia eager to host in four years

22.05.2014
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The Royal Arena in Copenhagen that is being built and Arena Riga in Latvia are the primary venues proposed by the two applicants. Photos: DIU, Martin Merk

Last year they lost with their bid together. This time they’ll bid against each other: Denmark and Latvia want to host the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.

Following presentations, the 2014 IIHF Annual Congress, with delegates from the International Ice Hockey Federation’s member countries, will allocate the flagship event to be held in four years on Friday.

Denmark applies with the cities of Copenhagen and Herning as venues, while Latvia wants to bring the event back to two arenas in Riga. The next three World Championships have already been awarded to Prague and Ostrava (Czech Republic) in 2015; to Moscow and St. Petersburg (Russia) in 2016; and a co-hosted event in Cologne (Germany) and Paris (France) in 2017.

Denmark

Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark with 1.9 million inhabitants and 3.8 million in the Danish-Swedish Oresund region, is the main venue for the bid with the hockey town of Herning, a city of 86,000, as second venue.

With a capacity for 12,000 fans, the Royal Arena in Copenhagen is being built and expected to open its gates by the beginning of 2016. A practice rink will be built adjacent to the Royal Arena. The arena is being built in an area between the city centre and the airport. It will be a 10-minute journey by metro and the venue’s train station allows direct connections to the airport and to Sweden. There’s also a motorway exit close to the arena. A fan zone is planned by the arena operator.

Herning is a three-hour journey from Copenhagen by car or train, or a 45-minute flight from the nearby Billund Airport.

The Jyske Bank Boxen that opened in Herning in October 2010 is a multifunctional arena for 12,000 spectators, including an event area with a football stadium and exhibition halls nearby that can be used for additional functions such as a fan zone and press centre. A railway station, bus stops and highway exit are nearby. The arena has hosted international handball and volleyball events, as well as concerts with stars like Prince, Rihanna or Lady Gaga. The KVIK Hockey Arena of the Herning Blue Fox is five kilometres away and will be used as practice facility.

Denmark is the highest-ranked nation that has never hosted the IIHF’s flagship event but has organized other IIHF events like Division I tournaments in the U20 and U18 categories and the Final Olympic Qualification. It would be the biggest single sporting event ever held in Denmark, which presented its bid under the slogan “We are ready”.

“We have a plan to move our great sport forward and today we can say we are ready. Let’s create a new home for hockey,” said the Danish Ice Hockey Union’s President and IIHF Council member, Henrik Bach Nielsen.

Denmark has played in lower divisions for decades before earning promotion in 2002. Since 2003 the Danes have been playing in the top division and have begun producing NHL-calibre talent.

“Until some years ago hockey had little coverage in Denmark. We kept believing in ourselves and were willing to become better. We want to be a top hockey nation,” Edmonton Oilers’ defenseman Philip Larsen said in his speech. “We are still one final step missing: the chance to show our fans what we can do on home ice. By that we can show all the other small nations what they can accomplish with hard work and team spirit.”

Latvia

The Danish bid competes against another bid from one of the smaller nations. But Latvia with its fans joining their national team all over the world brings huge passion to the international stage.

The Baltic nation of roughly two million people had the chance to host the World Championship once, in 2006, with two venues in its capital of Riga. That’s where the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation would like to stage the event again in 2018: in the city of 643,600, currently the European Capital of Culture, with over a million people living in the region.

Arena Riga, the main venue of the 2006 IIHF World Championship, will offer a capacity of 10,300 seats. Since being constructed for the Worlds, the venue not far from the city centre in the west also hosted smaller IIHF events, two Final Olympic Qualification tournaments and it became home to Dinamo Riga, Latvia’s entry in the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League.

Latvia also hopes for more prominent hockey legacy. A new 8,000-seat arena not far from the city centre and the airport will be financed by the Latvian state and the Riga municipality and be built by December 2016. A feasibility study is under development. It will be located on the other side of River Daugava in the University Campus and shall be part of a new sporting area.

Additionally, new practice facilities will be built near each of the venues and three other small ice rinks already exist.

Like in 2006 Latvia promises a fan-friendly event with ticket prices starting at five euros and fan zones at the arenas, downtown at the Congress Hall and in the picturesque old-town district.

“We proved in 2006 that we can host the World Championship. The organization was great then and we gained great experience. With the experience we have, it will be even much better organized in 2018,” said Kirovs Lipmans, the President of the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation.

“Latvia is a small country with about two million people and almost two million people are ice hockey fans because it’s our national sport. We had about 11,000 fans from Latvia coming here to Belarus. People are so excited about our game here. It is very important for us to host. Latvia has never disappointed the hockey family.”

Latvia played in four top-level World Championships in the ‘30s before being cut off during the Soviet era. After restoring independence, the Latvian national team earned its way up to the top division where it has played since 1997 in addition to four straight Olympic participations.

The World Championship would also be part of the 100-year anniversary of Latvia’s foundation as an independent country.

MARTIN MERK

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