TOKYO Ė With several veteran members retiring from the Council, some younger faces join the IIHFís executive body.
Thomas Wu from Hong Kong succeeds Shoichi Tomita as IIHF Vice President representing the region of Asia and Oceania. He was elected three weeks after celebrating his 40th birthday. Wu got involved in ice hockey after discovering the sport through friends of his family in Hong Kong, where he started to help developing hockey in 2001 with several initiatives. Being fluent in English, Chinese and Japanese should help him in his new role.
Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer, 35, joins Beate Grupp as one of two female Council members. She was the first registered female player in Hungary and represented the national team in 55 international games. Aside from her experience as a lawyer, she also serves as the Hungarian Ice Hockey Federationís board member responsible for womenís ice hockey, and as a team manager for the womenís senior and U18 national teams.
IIHF.com sat down with Kolbenheyer and Wu to talk about their work and their goals.
You were both elected as new, young Council members. How did you feel after the election?
Kolbenheyer: I was a little bit surprised when I was elected because I thought I could maybe be seen as too young, but Iím glad the delegates didnít think that way and I hope I can live up to their expectations and be a good member of the Council.
Wu: I was excited and a little bit nervous at the same time because there are a lot of challenges both in ice hockey and in the Asian region, but itís just like the game, everybody whoís involved is very dedicated and if we can channel our energy together, I think we can achieve a lot.
When it comes to your age youíre almost in a similar situation like Shoichi Tomita when he was elected 34 years ago. Can the situation be compared?
Wu: I think so. The game is less developed in Asia in general. Not only do we need to get the game better known, we want more countries to participate in the world family of ice hockey. Shoichi Tomita has developed a very good foundation for that.
What are your main goals for your contribution on the IIHF Council for the new four-year term?
Kolbenheyer: I hope that I can help develop young people. I maybe donít have enough experience to say what to do in menís hockey, but I know what we need to do in womenís hockey. I have seen it from several angles. I saw it from a playerís side, now Iím a team manager and board member. Maybe I have different angles and can help develop hockey in smaller countries.
Wu: There are two areas. One is the same, the youth side. It is the foundation for any hockey program in any country. We need to either kick start or strengthen national youth programs. Some countries actually have pretty good programs, so we need to guide them so they can participate more in international hockey. Looking at Asia, thereís great potential for hockey. Bringing them to the world stage is another goal I want to work on.
Hungary has enjoyed a fast rise in womenís hockey especially with the U18 womenís national team joining the top division. Whatís the secret behind the success of your womenís hockey program?
Kolbenheyer: I think it took a long time to develop. Itís not just the last two years. The program for the U18 womenís national team began only four years ago and the womenís hockey program 20 years ago. So itís quite a long time to develop. We have very talented young ladies who play ice hockey and they are really involved and would like to have success and they have good coaches. Everything came together at the same time.
What do you want to change to improve ice hockey in Asia?
Wu: There are many countries within the Asian Strategic Planning Group and they have different levels of participation and the stages of development are different. For some of them itís most important to create awareness for the sport. We need people who are dedicated and work hard to get the word out to the general public.
Here in Japan the sport is pretty well developed and people know about the sport and itís a professional sport. They have a strong federation here. Itís easier than in other countries. For example in China many people donít know about the sport, so itís harder to develop it. Having similar levels of public support within the countries would help with development.
I see a lot of potential in the near future. We will not only have the Asian Winter Games in 2017 in Sapporo but also the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, Korea in 2018. If we prepare to get the word out for those two events we can raise the profile of winter sports and ice hockey in particular and we want to make use of those two events.
At the Congress IIHF President Renť Fasel said he hopes you can help make hockey bigger in China with your background. Do you think thatís possible and what do you think will hockey look like in China in five years?
Wu: Itís a great challenge. In working with the Chinese Ice Hockey Association and people at the local level I have a strong feeling that there is a vast potential for Chinese ice hockey to develop, so thatís very encouraging for me. I have some programs in the Hong Kong body like the ones already happening in China. The IIHF is also very involved in the initiative with the Harbin Institute. If we can find a way for everyone to work together we will certainly have more and better hockey in China.
You played hockey for a long time. What do you think about womenís hockey internationally and how can the program be improved?
Kolbenheyer: I think itís a great idea from the committee to have the World Girlsí Ice Hockey Weekend in the program because I saw how it worked well in Hungary. We did it two times and after that many young girls came to play hockey. Itís also very necessary in smaller countries to let girls play together with boys as long as they can. Itís not dangerous for them and they can learn a lot from the boys.
If they play only together in womenís specific leagues they donít develop as well. We would like to have good national leagues, but we have to build the basis together with the boys. I think thatís very important in the smaller countries. Of course in Canada and in the U.S. itís not that important because they have very good womenís teams from the beginning, but in other countries itís different.
You were a player for a long time also on the national team. How will it help you for your work within the Council?
Kolbenheyer: I think players always have a different view on some things. I can think like a player and see what could be different.
You have more of a business background. How will this help you for your work in ice hockey?
Wu: I had business training in North America, which lays a good background for hockey development. On the hockey front I saw how hockey works in the U.S. from high schools to university to professional hockey. Itís a model that works quite well.
Developing hockey is similar to developing a business. You have to think about the angles, sustainability, elements, how to manage the resources and get everybody in. I think itís similar, but there are also many differences. Itís different than working for profit-oriented business. Weíre working to develop the sport and for bigger recognition and people joining hockey at different levels like players, coaches, referees, fans and others who are part of the game. I hope in working together with the hockey family I can help keep hockey going.