The hockey world is growing, but one of the biggest challenges to the sport’s growth is the lack of accessibility to equipment in non-traditional hockey countries. That’s where the IIHF Equipment Support Program comes in.
The Program was established in 1994, at a time when the IIHF’s membership was rapidly expanding. Its main objective was, and still is, working together with suppliers to distribute equipment to Member National Associations (MNAs) in need.
“The IIHF Equipment Support Program is a collaboration between the IIHF, its Member National Associations and the contractual suppliers,” said Kira Rieder, the IIHF’s Marketing and Communications Manager who acts as a liaison between all involved parties. “We have a pool of eight ice hockey equipment suppliers, which split their contract fee in cash fee and value in kind. This value in kind equipment will be provided to MNAs which are in need of equipment to support their national development programs.”
For many IIHF members, this program is crucial to development.
“The IIHF has given unparalleled support to the Malaysian Ice Hockey Federation since our establishment in 2006,” said Susan Loh, the association’s president. “The IIHF has been working alongside the MIHF to develop ice hockey in Malaysia. Other than providing guidance in organizing ice hockey programs, the MIHF has received equipment support from the IIHF for many years.”
“We are very lucky to receive IIHF Equipment Support,” said Andy Mills, President of the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation. “In 2018, 120 full sets of equipment arrived. This has enabled us not only to get kids on ice safely, but it gives us the opportunity to retain kids with gear to use over the season.”
New Zealand has been an IIHF Member since 1977, but being geographically isolated from most of the hockey-playing world, acquiring equipment has always been difficult. With fewer than 1,500 registered ice hockey players, few sporting goods retailers in the country are willing to order enough stock to make a shipment cost-effective.
“We have one shop and New Zealand called Centre Ice,” said Mills. “They have supported New Zealand ice hockey as best they can for some 25 years, as well as sourcing gear for our existing players. However, with online purchases and limited numbers it’s impossible to sit on endless amounts of stock let alone a huge range of sizes.”
“Being a non-winter country, IIHF Equipment Support plays a vital part in the development of ice hockey in Malaysia,” said Loh. “Ice hockey gear is not commonly sold in Malaysia, and often players have to purchase their equipment from other countries and online which are a challenge, especially for beginners who are just starting to learn the sport. With the Equipment Support Program, it has opened up a lot of opportunities for aspiring players, especially youth, to start training and, over time, has improved the overall quality of the players.”
Malaysia and New Zealand are just two of 43 MNAs currently receiving equipment support, and with the recent announcement of five new members in Algeria, Colombia, Iran, Lebanon and Uzbekistan, that number could soon grow.
To qualify for the Equipment Support Program, an MNA must meet the following requirements:
1. It must be an IIHF member
2. It must have pre-approved development plans – only youth and children projects will be supported
3. The equipment’s usage must fall within those development plans
Petr Briza is a former professional hockey goaltender and executive from the Czech Republic and is now an IIHF Council Member and Chairman of the Youth & Junior Development Committee. While CEO and general manger of Sparta Prague, Briza established a hockey school for young players from Balkan countries as part of the IIHF’s Partnership for Progress Program, so he’s well familiar with the challenges of growing the sport in non-traditional markets.
“Usually, the associations make their requests through our Committee, which is connected together with the IIHF office in cooperation with the Partnership for Progress Program,” said Briza. “We’re working now with South Africa and others because smaller associations are dealing with much smaller human resources and financial resources. Of course, they need equipment. Without equipment, you can’t play.”
And that’s no small matter. As any hockey parent from any country can tell you, equipment isn’t cheap.
“If you take the example of the Czech Ice Hockey Association, this is one of the biggest in the world and even it needs equipment, so you can imagine the smaller ones,” said Briza.
“It was a breeze to apply for the program,” said Loh. “We were given full guidance on how many quantities and type of equipment we may need for our association. The equipment we have received is of top quality that can last for years. We managed to conduct ‘Learn to Skate’ and ‘Learn to Play’ activities for youth, where the children are able to learn how to skate and experience using full ice hockey equipment for the first time. This is important to nurture their love for the sport, preparing them to be comfortable in gear at an early stage, and allowing them to gain confidence in the sport before moving on to purchasing their own personal gear.
“From this initiative, as of today we have age groups of U15 Boys and Girls, U18 Boys and Girls, U20 Men’s, Men’s and Women’s,” Loh continued. “Our local ice hockey clubs are most appreciative of the IIHF Equipment Support program.”
Muhd Fadzli Amin from the Rimau Ice Hockey Club in Malaysia commented: “The most recent support the MIHF received was the provision of much-needed goalie equipment, which arrived in 2018 and has since benefited five of our very young club members who are now training as goalies every week. We look forward to more support from the IIHF to assist us in producing quality ice hockey players for our club and country.”
However, with all that’s involved, there are bound to be some difficulties. One of the most frequently told stories involved a shipment of adult equipment to Mongolia that was meant for children.
“As there are so many people involved in the process, it is hard to keep track,” said Rieder, who emphasized that communication is the key IIHF Member National Associations typically receive a delivery of equipment within a year of a successful application. to keeping the program running smoothly.
In recent years, the program has become a lot more streamlined and incidents such as the one in Mongolia are much less frequent.
“We found out that it is best when one person from the IIHF keeps track of all shipments,” she explained. “The direct communication between supplier and MNA usually doesn’t work very well. There are too many misunderstandings and a lack of experience with handling shipments. A lot of the federations have never received such a huge shipment before and a lot of suppliers have never shipped equipment to Mongolia, Macau or the Philippines before.”
“Being so isolated, [the shipment of equipment] took over four months to arrive by sea with many stops,” said Mills. “But we were very excited to receive it and quickly went to work distributing it around the country. It's been a huge success and our 2019 first shift program is well underway, attracting more kiwi kids to hang up their footy boots and don a pair of ice skates."
“We hope that the IIHF Equipment Support will always continue,” said Amin. “It is crucial and important, especially for tropical countries like us where winter sports are uncommon and the supply of good, affordable ice hockey equipment is not available. It has helped our sports to grow so much as we can connect with many untapped talent that may remain undiscovered due to a simple reason of not having the right equipment to start with.”
“It’s a fantastic program and supports many countries like ourselves,” said Mills. “It’s a true credit to those companies that assist the IIHF in growing the game globally and appreciated worldwide. Without this support, growing New Zealand ice hockey gets even harder. So on behalf of the New Zealand Ice Hockey Federation, its volunteers and most importantly it hundreds of smiling kids safely wear your equipment, I thank the IIHF and all its sponsors for making this program a success and reaching our goal of growing our game.”
To inquire about the Equipment Support Program contact [email protected]