Fasel and Kalvitis speak at press conference
by Derek O'Brien|06 JUN 2021
LHF President Aigars Kalvitis and IIHF President René Fasel at the press conference that was held remotely with accredited media.

On the last day of the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, about four hours before the start of the bronze-medal game between the USA and Germany and nine hours before the start of the final between Finland and Canada, IIHF President Rene Fasel and Latvian Ice Hockey Federation President Aigars Kalvitis held a joint press conference.

This year’s World Championship in Riga, Latvia has been different than others, which was emphasized by the fact that in contrast to other years, the press conference was held digitally. Nonetheless, both men stated their belief that it has been a successful event.

“I can say this has been a very successful tournament because we’ve reached our main goals,” Kalvitis began. The first goal was to stage 64 games and 62 have so far been played, with the last two games scheduled for today.

“We kept COVID out of the tournament. There have been no positive cases to this point, and our Organizing Committee did huge work to keep the players and teams satisfied with the conditions – firstly ice conditions, secondly living conditions, thirdly services conditions.

“I am very happy that we reached our goals.”

Click here for the latest report on the Covid-19 testing.

The local Organizing Committee didn’t have as much time to do all the usual things necessary to stage a World Championship – about 110 days – and had some unusual challenges as well, but these challenges were met and Kalvitis had many people to thank for that.

“Many thanks to the International Ice Hockey Federation, their support was very important for us. Together, both of us working day-by-day reached this result,” said Kalvitis.

“Also, thanks to the Latvian government, which participated with the investment in the Olympic Sports Centre for playing and also to finish the practice rink which was ready for when the teams came in.

“Many thanks to everyone who supported us. These 16 days in Latvia have been unbelievable and he spent a very good time.”

When it was his turn to speak, Fasel took a step back to reflect on the whole season from an IIHF perspective, which of course was difficult.

“It was a very, very challenging season for me, especially as my last season as a President,” Fasel began. “We had to cancel around 28 tournaments,” due to the pandemic, and the ones that did go ahead took a lot of work.

“We started with the under-20 in Edmonton, Canada, which was a very successful tournament, and then with the under-18 in Dallas, Texas. We were very successful there – we had a few spectators and zero positive cases in the bubble.”

The experiences with the two junior tournaments helped make this tournament in Latvia a successful one, according to Fasel, with the next one, the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Calgary just a few weeks ahead.

“I would like to thank the Latvian Hockey Federation, and especially Aigars here,” said Fasel, motioning to Kalvitis. “It wasn’t easy here with all the discussions we had and the political challenges here, but I must say ... Today, Sunday, the sun is outside and we have two great teams in the final.”

The first question from the media was about the challenges with allowing spectators, and with the small turnout even after they were allowed to enter the arenas. Kalvitis pointed to the many logistical challenges involved, and the difficulty potential spectators faced in meeting government-mandated criteria. However, the fact that any fans were able to watch some of the games live is seen as a positive.

“When we started to organize this tournament in February, we weren’t expecting that spectators would be allowed in, and the whole championship was prepared that way,” said Kalvitis. “Because the situation in Europe improved a little bit, we started negotiating with the Latvian government about the possibility of allowing some spectators and selling tickets. We expected this decision by 11 May but the government postponed the decision ... and the decision wasn’t made until the middle of the tournament.”

Fasel was also asked about the participation of NHL players at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

“We have been working for the past six weeks very closely with the NHL, NHLPA, the Beijing Organizing Committee and the IOC,” said Fasel. “We don’t have a deadline, but we’re under pressure because the NHL and the European leagues want to know as soon as possible that they can start with preparations for next season and make the schedules, so I think we will make a decision in the next week or two.

“We’re very close to an agreement but we’re not done yet. There’s a very strong wish from our side to have NHL players in Beijing because, for me personally, the Olympic tournament should be best-on-best. That’s not to say that PyeongChang was not good, but I think our sport prefers to have a best-on-best tournament.”

As mentioned, this is Fasel’s last season as IIHF President and he was asked about potential successors, and in particular about yesterday’s announcement of Franz Reindl’s candidacy for the position. Fasel mentioned that candidates included, but are not limited to, Reindl and Petr Briza, and brought up the fact that both of them won Olympic bronze medals as players – Reindl as a forward for West Germany in 1976 and Briza as a goaltender for Czechoslovakia in 1992.

“Both Petr and Franz are good candidates and on a personal note, I like it when they are former players,” said Fasel. “I think it’s important that somebody leading a Federation has the knowledge of the game for when there are sometimes difficult decisions.”

More candidates may enter the race. The deadline for the nomination of candidates for President, Senior Vice President, Vice President or Council Member is 30 June.