Great first time in Kazakhstan
by Martin Merk|05 MAY 2019
From left to right: Tournament Directorate Chairman Luc Tardif, IIHF President René Fasel and Gleb Karatayev, Chairman of the Organizing Committee.
photo: Marat Akimzhanov
At the press conference on the last day of the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A in the Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan the International Ice Hockey Federation and the Kazakh organizers expressed their satisfaction about having this biggest IIHF event the country has ever hold at the Barys Arena in Nur-Sultan.

“I want to congratulate for the organization of this tournament. It’s a really outstanding, high-level organization. And congratulations to Kazakhstan and Belarus, who will go up to the top division next year,” said IIHF Council member Luc Tardif, who serves as chairman of the tournament directorate during the week-long event.

“It was a week of high-level competition and the organization made everything to put the players in the best condition to compete. The delegations of the teams were very happy and we had no complaints.”

To the Kazakh organizers he said: “I think you’re ready to do a little bit more.”

IIHF President RenĂ© Fasel, who joined the event for the final weekend, also praised the organizers and said about the tournament: “It’s a very interesting championship with five out of the six teams having already played in the top division recently. You never know what happens in this group, we saw how tight it was last year in Budapest. We could see some interesting games.” 

Bid for 2026 Worlds?

What could “a little more” mean for Kazakhstan? That could be a bid for the top-level World Championship. Kazakhstan does not just have a 12,000-seat arena in Nur-Sultan but a modern, 2016-opened arena of similar size in Almaty, the old capital in the southeast of the country.

“We’re happy to hold this championship and we try everything to hold it at a high level. We have always been moving up and down, that’s why it was always difficult to apply as a host. We are sorry that we had to stay at this level but that allowed us to hold this championship here,” said Gleb Karatayev, Chairman of the Organizing Committee and General Secretary of the Ice Hockey Federation of Kazakhstan.

“We are happy to organize the World Championship in the future because we have good arenas here in Nur-Sultan and in Almaty.”

A possible year indicated for an application is 2026. The next World Championships have already been allocated to Switzerland (2020), Belarus & Latvia (2021) and Finland (2022) while the Czech Republic, Russia and Sweden put in bids for 2023-2025.

The first-time organizers were happy with the attendance figures and reached the goals they set. “The attendance compared to the past years was better than at other Division IA tournaments. It was our goal to sell 60,000 to 70,000 tickets and we reached the goal,” Karatayev said. Tardif confirmed that it is the usual crowd at this level and praised the fans from other countries who came here. Especially from Hungary there were many fans coming and creating a good atmosphere in and around the arena.

Olympic, number of teams and more

Then there were questions from the journalists. One is the usual one. Will the NHL be back at the Olympics for Beijing 2022?

“We don’t know yet whether the NHL will be in Beijing or not,” Fasel said. “It will be very important to see what the NHL and NHLPA will do in September in terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. We would like to discuss with the NHL in 2020.”

About a question to increase the number of teams at the Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament, Fasel said: “There’s a rule from the IOC that the team sports can only have maximum 12 teams except for football because 16 is easier there. I would rather go with less than with more teams. We will play with 12 teams in Beijing.”

In addition, the Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament will be extended from eight to ten teams.

And what about 16 teams at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship? Is it the right number?

“We have this question every year. I would say 12 teams is perfect but it’s so difficult to come back from 16 to 12. On the other hand, with 16 teams you can promote hockey in countries that would not be there like Belarus, Kazakhstan or Italy. At the moment 16 is a good balance,” Fasel said.

Tardif added: “We are an international federation and need to open the things. All games are competitive and there are no meaningless games. The 16 teams at the moment are the right target. Belarus and Kazakhstan going up will be competitive at that level. 16 teams are the best size of competition. France organized the World Championship in 2017 with Germany and as organizer we have to swallow this size.”

About a question to expand the Division I Group A to eight teams, Fasel answered: “We discussed it a little bit but if you have eight teams you would probably need two arenas. I would favour to have eight teams with the competitive level we have and playoffs. But it’s not so easy to change. For the moment it stays the way it is with six teams.”

Asked about the development of ice hockey, Fasel mentioned the millions spent to maintain the large tournament program for men’s, women’s and junior category national teams at all levels to make it possible to organize tournaments including this one in Nur-Sultan.

“That’s our way to promote, to have tournaments and come to Nur-Sultan and other places,” he said.

“And why not to bid for the 2026 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Nur-Sultan and Almaty?”