IIHF Presser with Finnish & Latvian organizers
by Derek O'Brien|28 MAY 2023

On the final day of the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship – about 80 minutes prior to the start of the bronze-medal game between the USA and Latvia – the IIHF held its annual press conference with the local organizers in both venues. This year’s participants were IIHF President Luc Tardif, IIHF Senior Vice-President Petr Briza, IIHF Council Member Franz Reindl and the heads of the two Local Organizing Committees: Heikki Hietanen in Tampere and Edgars Buncis in Riga.

Tardif began by congratulating both Organizing Committees for all they did in such a short period of time – it was only during last year’s Ice Hockey World Championship in Finland that this year’s co-hosts were decided under extenuating curcumstances.

“These two cities decided to stand up and organize this 2023 World Championship in only 11 months,” said Tardif, who pointed out that four years is the standard preparation time. “That doesn’t seem like a great challenge but it is, and the results were really fantastic.”

Briza and Reindl – who were stationed in Tampere and Riga respectively during the group stage – reiterated the great jobs done at both venues.

Hietanen, who led the organization of the 2022 IIHF WM in Tampere and Helsinki, spoke about having to do it again on a short turnaround.

“We were lucky to have our Latvian friends to co-host this time, and it was a big help,” said Hietanen. “There are a lot of big and small details you have to organize in 11 months and it’s not easy, but it was a privilege.”

Projecting the number of fans expected to today’s two games, Hietanen said they expect a very slight decrease in attendance from last year – 279,000 to an estimated 275,000 – which organizers are satisfied with, given the challenges of attracting fans to the same place two consecutive years.

Speaking on behalf of the Riga organizers, Buncis thanked the IIHF, their Finnish colleagues and all partners for helping to make the tournament a success.

“Maybe it looked like it went smoothly but I must say that it was a rollercoaster.”

Buncis noted that attendance for the 30 games in Riga was just short of 179,000, and it was a welcome experience to have them after 2021.

“We organized that event under special conditions and to see the fans this year, it was a special celebration for Latvia.”

The floor was then opened to questions from the media, with the first one being about the next time a decision would be made about Russia and Belarus. Tardif was very specific about when that would be.

“It will be at a Council meeting during the third week of March 2024, when we make a decision about the 2024/25 season, which will include the start of Olympic qualification,” said Tardif. “We hope to make a decision as soon as possible so the participants know exactly what is at stake for promotion and relegation.”

A question was asked about the state of the IIHF’s finances, given the impact of the pandemic and other challenges over the past few years. Tardif emphasized that the IIHF is a non-profit organization and that all revenues from the Ice Hockey World Championship make all the other tournaments financially possible to hold, and so staging major events behind closed doors or with limited attendance was difficult, but they’re on the road back to normal.

“We have weathered the storm, and we look forward to better weather ahead,” said Tardif.

As expected, the topic of NHL players at the 2026 Olympic Winter Games was raised. Tardif replied that the IIHF’s primary concern for the Games at the moment is at the organizational level, but they plan on getting to negotiations with the IOC, NHL and NHLPA over the next 18 months.

“We want the best players in the Ice Hockey World Championship and the Olympic Games. We almost had it in Beijing but the pandemic ruined that,” said Tardif. “What we want is a longterm relationship and mutual respect. We want to make sure that all involved parties work together toward a solution.”

Along the lines of mutual respect, Tardif said that the IIHF is willing to accommodate a World Cup of Hockey organized by the NHL but would prefer at the start of the hockey season.

“February is not possible in order to protect the Ice Hockey World Championship,” said Tardif. “We don’t organize World Championships in North America because we don’t want to compete with the Stanley Cup playoffs, and we expect that same respect.”

At the conclusion of the press conference, Briza thanked Finnish and Latvian organizers, then spoke about the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Czechia – often called “the heart of Europe” – where the slogan will be “Heart of the Game”.

“We had over 741,000 spectators in 2015 to the same two cities, and we would like to approach this number again,” said Briza, referring to the Ice Hockey World Championship attendance record in Prague and Ostrava.

“Welcome to Czechia and we’ll see you next year.”