Q&A with the IIHF President
by Adam Steiss|18 SEP 2020
IIHF President René Fasel speaks at an IIHF Congress.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
What are your impressions about yesterday’s Council meeting? 

Very positive, despite the many tough discussions we had about this upcoming season and the decisions that needed to be taken.  

We had to make the move to cancel several men’s U20 and women’s U18 category tournaments, including the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship. But we did so knowing that we have done all the research and consultations necessary to make an informed decision. 

I am confident that we made the best decision for the well-being of the IIHF and its members. The IIHF Council showed real leadership and we must continue to do so in this difficult time. 

Let’s start with the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, what is the status with the tournament?

Very challenging situation, we are facing outside political pressures that have placed serious risk in the 2021 World Championship to be co-hosted by Minsk and Riga. The Latvian Prime Minister has indicated that the country is still willing to co-host the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, however that it may be unwilling to do so with Minsk as a co-host under the current circumstances, and is calling on the IIHF to consider assigning the status of main host for the 2021 World Championship tournament to another country. 

These political moves by the Latvian government are understandable of course. It has been distressing to see what has been happening in Belarus, a country where the IIHF and the participating teams had such a great experience playing the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. Right now, if the Worlds were to be held this month, there is no way we could do it. 

I hate to see ice hockey coming into a political discussion, regardless of the Latvian government’s position, the host organizing committee for Riga and Minsk worked hard together to win a successful bid under the slogan “Passion, no Borders”. Since then they have done a great job working together to prepare for 2021.  

But health and safety is a priority, I cannot say it enough. Given the political situation and also the COVID-19 risk, we must review the 2021 World Championship status carefully. This will take some time. 

So what are the next steps? 

The IIHF Council has agreed to initiate the creation of an Expert Group that will analyze the situation with the World Championship. Even without these issues coming from the Latvian government there have been ongoing concerns regarding the ability of the Minsk venue to guarantee the health and safety of players, fans, and officials. As with all IIHF decisions we will take as much time as we need, and choose the solution that is best for the IIHF, its members, and the game of hockey.  

What was the reasoning behind the IIHF moving to cancel most of the 2020/21 lower division tournaments?

When we presented the situation to the member nations during the 2020 IIHF Extra-Ordinary Congress, we put two options forward: cancel the tournaments now and receive a reimbursement from the IIHF, or proceed to attempt to host the tournament but forgo the usual travel support and other financial incentives from the IIHF in case the event is cancelled. The vote was in favour of trying to play the 2020/21 season. 

We didn’t fully appreciate the scale of the challenges we were facing towards playing a full season with COVID-19. When you look at what a team needs to invest in participating in an IIHF tournament, coupled with travel support for incoming groups like game officials that fly into tournaments, the challenges were immense. 

Financial issues are being faced by all the teams right now. Our Event Status Tracker showed that many teams are facing insurance issues that jeopardize their ability to compete safely. If a player catches COVID and the entire team has to quarantine, then there is no coverage for many of these teams for indirect costs like hotel rooms, hospital beds, etc.  

If a single person on a team flies in and tests positive, the entire team would be turned back and would need to fly back. So a team could spend thousands on transport only to have their team return immediately and the tournament cancelled, with just one positive case. These are country rules, not the IIHF’s. 

Will there be a financial impact on the member nations with these cancellations? 

No, according to the member nations and tournament organizers they have held back on signing contracts and spending money on travelling and other tournament costs. This is why the Council needed to take the decisions now to cancel before costs would start to be sunk into organizing these tournaments. 

Also, by taking this decision now, we still can afford to go back to our initial proposal and develop a new COVID-19 relief fund to help the organizers and participating teams of these cancelled tournaments keep their programs intact. 

Are you concerned about having different standards being applied by the IIHF cancelling its lower division tournaments but still trying to host our top division events? 

The IIHF World Championship and the World Junior Championship are our flagship tournaments. The revenue that we receive from our top events goes to support all of the 30+ tournaments that we hold each year. If these tournaments cannot run, we could not support any of the others. 

When the 2020 World Championship was cancelled, the insurance payout the IIHF received was redirected back to the member nations through its COVID-19 Relief fund. The member nations need the IIHF to stay strong and financially solvent, for their benefit. Especially when things return to normal we have to be able to fully restore our full championship program with guaranteed IIHF financial support. 

So we owe it to our member nations and our marketing partners to do our best to deliver the World Championship and the other top division events, to ensure that in the future we can continue to host tournaments for them.

We are simply unable to support them to the level that we could in a normal season, and without IIHF support our MNAS will take serious financial risk by participating in these tournaments. Finally, the most important factor is health and safety, and based on our Event Status Tracker findings, we cannot guarantee that there will be an acceptable level of health and safety standards for these events. 

Why the move to cancel the Women’s U18s? 

The IIHF Council acknowledged that we could not put the parents of under-18 players in the difficult position of signing off permission for their daughters to compete in a tournament overseas. This concern was also voiced to us by some of the participating teams already. I spoke directly to one of the team leaders for the women’s U18 countries that would have played, and they expressed serious discomfort with travelling with their teams to compete under the current circumstances. 

This will be an issue also for the men’s under-18 tournaments in the spring, the only difference being that we are still quite a few months away and we can afford to continue to monitor the status of the tournament and hope for improvement. 

Where do we stand right now with the World Juniors? 

We have come to an agreement with Hockey Canada and the Swedish Ice Hockey Association, which will allow Canada to host the 2021 and 2022 World Junior Championship, while Sweden will swap with Canada to move to 2024. 

Coronavirus has forced us to find alternative solutions and be as flexible as we can be in order to get international hockey up and running again. I can’t thank the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation enough for their willingness to cooperate and help out Hockey Canada as it tries to make the Juniors work this season. 

Still there remain challenges ahead. There are concerns with underage players being released to participate, and what a bubble environment might look like and what the costs involved would be. 

Nevertheless we will do our best to find the right solutions that will benefit all our stakeholders.