“We can consider this 2023 edition a success. We had a lot of records and the tournament is not even over yet. We have a fantastic audience here and on TV. The audience was close to 3 million for the quarter-finals alone in Canada, that brings us into the top-3 in Canada with the FIFA World Cup and the Super Bowl,” IIHF President Luc Tardif opened the media conference.
Tardif was happy to have the World Juniors back at Christmastime with fans in the stands and the classic World Juniors atmosphere after two difficult winters affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Halifax and Moncton were great places to come back with the World Juniors. There’s a good spirit, the cities and people were involved, you could feel it everywhere. I want to thank the Hockey Canada staff who has worked with the IIHF team at these three World Juniors. It was not easy with the event last year being cancelled during the tournament and the one in Edmonton difficult due to the timing in August. I’m really happy about the success of the tournament and we can look to the future positively,” he said.
IIHF Senior Vice-President Petr Briza served as co-chairperson for the event in Halifax, Nova Scotia and thoroughly enjoyed the comeback of the World Juniors festivities as we knew it before the pandemic.
“I want to thank the provinces and cities. There were many people involved and they had just seven months since the assignment of the tournament to Halifax and Moncton to prepare. Halifax is no stranger to IIHF tournaments with the World Juniors in 2003, the World Championships for men and women,” he said. He praised the great crowds and many sold-out games in Halifax. In total over 220,000 spectators will have visited the event at both venues, over 7,300 in average. “The players really appreciated how people cheered them on also when smaller teams like Austria played. The players will remember the hockey spirit,” the former Czech national team goalkeeper said.
IIHF Council member and co-chairperson in Moncton, Heikki Hietanen, echoed the sentiments for the other venue in Moncton, New Brunswick.
“It was the first World Championship at any level ever in Moncton and they did an excellent job; the city and province made the best effort for the fans to enjoy the World Juniors inside and outside the arena,” he said. “There were good crowds and a good atmosphere. They really showed how important it was to them that everybody felt welcome. The commitment of everybody involved was great. We also had even games and everything was open in the group until the end.”
For Hockey Canada, hosting IIHF tournaments has been almost a quarterly task in recent years. “It’s an honour to organize tournaments on the IIHF’s behalf in Canada. Over the course of 27 months, it will be six events including the Women’s World Championship in Brampton in spring,” said Dean McIntosh, Hockey Canada’s Vice President, Events and Properties.
“If you look at the attendance, the communities, the engagement, it’s certainly very impressive in these junior hockey markets. We have had teams arrive earlier and took the opportunity to bring the World Juniors to other communities in the provinces. The idea to go to so many different communities and bring international hockey to these communities was great. We also brought them not only to junior hockey markets but also for junior hockey prices.” The result was that thousands of tournament packages were sold in both Halifax and Moncton.
Next year in GothenburgThe success of the World Juniors as an event for hockey fans in the Christmas period is set to continue in Europe next year.
“For a long time, this Christmas tournament was a rendezvous in Canada but we also have great audience figures in other countries in Europe and in the U.S.,” said Tardif.
The next edition will be played from 26 December 2023 to 5 January 2024 in Gothenburg with representatives from Sweden in attendance to present the event to the media.
“We had many cities in Sweden who wanted to become an organizer because the IIHF World Junior Championship is not only about a World Championship but also about the future. Gothenburg is the second-largest city of Sweden and a city and region that really breathes hockey,” said Anders Larsson, President of the Swedish Ice Hockey Association and member of the IIHF Council.
Gothenburg started its 400-year anniversary celebrations that will conclude with the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship as part of it.
“Gothenburg is a sustainable destination and this approach is important for us. We want to grow the game of hockey, want more kids to join the hockey schools, want a growing audience at the arenas. Both arenas are located in Gothenburg and all the teams, fans and media can go easily to both arenas that are just six kilometres apart from each other,” Larsson added.
Tickets will be at affordable prices ranging from SEK 120 to 750 (approx. €10-70). “We started with selling 3,000 ticket packages before knowing all the teams and the schedule and they were sold out within 30 minutes,” said Larsson. The official ticket sale will start on 14 February 2023 through Ticketmaster. Visit 2024.worldjuniors.hockey for more information, available in English and Swedish language.
Answers to media questionsThe IIHF and Hockey Canada representatives also answered questions from the media. The first question was surrounding the sexual assault allegations against players of the Canadian national junior teams in 2003 and 2018 that came to light earlier this year.
Investigations were reopened by the law enforcement agencies in Canada as well as within Hockey Canada including the independent arbitration panel. Therefore the IIHF can’t comment on these investigations while they are ongoing and before the results will be known.
“For us it is a Canadian affair, a potential criminal case. From the IIHF perspective, it’s important whether our member, Hockey Canada, acted properly or not. We asked Hockey Canada to provide us with the same information they submitted to the panel and authorities. We want to understand exactly what we can do,” Tardif said.
Tardif mentioned the IIHF’s integrity programs and the mandatory integrity workshops that have been held with participating teams at various IIHF events including the IIHF World Junior Championship for several years (see story). The programs include the topics abuse and harassment, anti-doping, competition manipulation and ethics.
Asked whether the program has changed since the allegations, Tardif answered: “We changed our approach to give more tools to our members to help them, with some of them not having enough tools and legal staff. We recently had a large kick-off meeting in Prague with 53 members in presence. Since ‘me too’ things changed for every company. It’s a society problem, not just a thing in hockey. We had a successful tournament here but we can’t say nothing has changed. We want our programs to integrate safety measures for everybody. It was a reputational damage in Canada but I’m optimistic that the newly elected people can make the change. I’m confident about Hockey Canada’s new board and the new chairman and we have to give them a chance.”
Briza confirmed the participation of all teams in the integrity workshop same as at the past events. “We work together with our teams here. We have 83 members from different countries and in different categories and cultures. This is a priority for the IIHF to not only work with our members but also to educate them so they know how to work on it with their players,” Briza said.
McIntosh answered the questions to Hockey Canada and concerning the impact on sponsorship. “We had a couple of Hockey Canada sponsors pause their commitment and we respect that. We got great support from our funding partners and also on how we are going to deliver the event and on the behaviour at the event. Our focus was how to bring fans back to the World Juniors, how they can watch on TV,” he said. “Financially it has been a challenge but we understand that they paused and we made positive steps forward during the last few months. We elected a new board of directors that has different initiatives including finding a new CEO to lead the organization and follow the action plan and how we modify the governance to all Canadians.”
Russia and Belarus are currently not participating in any IIHF tournaments. Asked about a future reintegration, Tardif said: “For us the most important thing is whether we can play in a safe environment. This tournament here was supposed to be played in Novosibirsk and Omsk. Was it possible to play this tournament in Novosibirsk, travel there, safety of the teams, officials, staff, media, fans, also safety for the Russian and Belarusian teams at IIHF events? Would it be possible to play the World Championship in St. Petersburg in May? It was not possible.
“We will re-evaluate the situation with Russia and Belarus every year at the Congress in May and whether we can have a tournament with Russia and Belarus in a safe environment. But I can’t say now what the outcome will be. The IIHF is a democratic institution. The IIHF Council will do a recommendation and the Congress will decide.”
Tardif on the women’s program: “The promotion of women’s hockey is important. We have a Women’s Committee, funding for women’s hockey development and tournaments. We want to improve the Women’s World Championship and have the same level of broadcast we have here and also improve it in Europe where we want the same level of organization. We’re on the right way.”
Tardif on the World Cup of Hockey: “We had discussions with the NHL and NHLPA but we are currently not involved in the World Cup of Hockey and we would also have a problem with having it in February. We prefer September, October. At the moment they postponed due to the situation with Russia. The discussions between us are still on going.”
Tardif about NHL participation at the 2026 Olympics: “Last time [in Beijing 2022] it was missed because of Covid but we started the discussions. It seems that the NHL and NHLPA are more open to come. The IOC seems also more open to accommodate the needs. Last year it was really difficult to organize it, have the players travel there with all the Covid countermeasures, also have more players from Europe than expected there but we found solutions with the European leagues and clubs. Having a decision with the NHL by spring 2024 would allow us to properly prepare for it. I’m optimistic but everybody has to do an effort to be there.”