Delegates get ready for Virtual Congress
by Martin Merk|15 JUN 2020
Members of the IIHF had the chance to speak with the IIHF in video calls prior to the 2020 IIHF Extra-Ordinary Congress that will be held virtually as well.
photo: Martin Merk
With one week to go before the 2020 IIHF Extra-Ordinary Congress that will be held online, the IIHF organized virtual information meetings with its member national associations on Monday. 

In order to account for the many time zones among the IIHF’s 81 Member National Associations, it was first for the members from Asia and Oceania to have the opportunity discuss with IIHF President René Fasel and IIHF General Secretary Horst Lichtner. This was followed by sessions for Europe/Africa and for the American continent later during the day.

The second video call was the biggest group with 54 participants joining in from their countries. Despite the many countries from different continents involved, the calls went smooth and the participating members had the opportunity to speak.

Today’s sessions were organized to allow members to discuss questions before the congress in the big group, familiarize them with the technology used and make the decision-making smooth in the bigger group next week.

“I’m glad to see all of you since we couldn’t see each other at the Congress in May and I’m looking forward to having you at the Virtual Congress. It will be a historical day for our federation,” Fasel said.

“How are we going to play next season? We have different scenarios and have to plan despite not knowing what the COVID-19 situation will be. Medication and vaccine will be key for the future.”

As it usually happens in May, the members will vote on organizing the various IIHF tournaments next season. Internal discussions between the participants of each tournament should make the selection of hosts easier and rules need to be put in place on team withdrawals or cancellations due to COVID-19 situation in the 2020/2021 season.

The members had the chance to apply for hosting and for many of the events that were cancelled in March and April, the same organizers may be back to host the same tournaments in 2021. More will be known next week.

Congress will also vote on the decision of the IIHF Council to postpone the men’s Final Olympic Qualification groups in Latvia, Norway and Slovakia to 26-29 August 2021, the Olympic Qualification tournaments for the 2022 Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament will be determined as well and the members will vote on the structure of the IIHF Continental Cup.

Because leagues in Europe and North America may start later than usual, the Council also proposed to move the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk and Riga by two weeks. The Extra-Ordinary Congress will thus confirm the dates of the IIHF’s biggest event next season.

The members had the chance to ask questions and get clarification. “If there are any questions it will help us to hear them now so we can clarify them and help understand prior to the congress,” said Lichtner, who also explained another big agenda item for next week, the Council mandate proposal because the Semi-Annual Congress with elections in September cannot be held as planned in St. Petersburg or anywhere else due to the pandemic and travel restrictions.

“The extension of the current Council term for another year was a logical consequence of that and will require adjustments of the IIHF Statutes & Bylaws.”

If approved, the next elections will be held at the 2021 IIHF Semi-Annual Congress in autumn 2021.

Beside the events and statutory changes due to the move of the elections, the budget will be another topic on the agenda.
Members of the IIHF had the chance to speak with the IIHF in video calls prior to the 2020 IIHF Extra-Ordinary Congress that will be held virtually as well.
photo: Martin Merk
The pre-congress video calls were not only here to inform the membership about what will happen next week but also to listen to them and the situation in their countries.

While each country is different, one common denominator was that there is currently no ice hockey. In most of the countries the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyday life and shut down ice hockey activities.

Some countries are closer than others in terms of getting back to “the new normal” for ice hockey. For instance, in Chinese Taipei and New Zealand there haven’t been cases for several weeks. In New Zealand games have already been played in some regions and the New Zealand Ice Hockey League is considering starting the 2020 season. In Chinese Taipei, try-outs have been held for national teams.

In Europe, on-ice practices have started in some countries and in North America hockey happens in less affected regions. However, games in front of an audience are still not being considered for the upcoming weeks.

Most leagues on all continents have been cancelled in spring although the National Hockey League will start trainings camps on 10 July and hopes to resume the season with a 24-team Stanley Cup Playoffs format this summer without spectators.

While practising on the ice may be possible now or in the near future in many countries, professional hockey leagues worry that they cannot play in front of fans, which would not only be bad for the fans and atmosphere but also create financial struggles. For instance, Slovak Ice Hockey Federation President Miroslav Satan recently announced last week that the season of the country’s top league is in danger with the government’s plan to not allow more than 1,000 spectators until the end of the year.

International ice hockey and cross-border leagues are even a more complicated topic.

“Korea is dependent on cross-border competitions to develop such as the Asia League and the IIHF tournaments,” said Korea’s national team coach Jim Paek – a view that is representative for many other countries. “Travel and quarantine restrictions when travelling abroad and when coming back to Korea makes it difficult.”

The situation is similar for China, which is preparing for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games on home ice in Beijing. Top Chinese teams in men’s, women’s and junior hockey play in Russia.

The Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League involves clubs in six countries and would in a normal year start in early September but for now crossing borders is difficult to impossible. The Austria-based EBEL had four countries involved last season and just added another one with a team from Bratislava, Slovakia.

While border restrictions are easing between some neighbouring countries and in and around the European Union, players and fans of ice hockey can hope that international ice hockey will be back for the new season with the situation of the pandemic hopefully improving.

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