Shaping the future together
by Martin Merk|02 OCT 2022
The new strategy plan is presented to the IIHF membership at the 2022 IIHF Semi-Annual Congress.
photo: Martin Merk
During the past months and following an extensive survey with different stakeholders, the International Ice Hockey Federation has worked on a new strategy plan for the current IIHF Council term until 2026 named ICE26.

The delegates of the 2022 IIHF Semi-Annual Congress from 74 countries were not only presented the strategy plan in the room and on paper to help make visions become real but they were actively involved in workshops to shape the future of the international ice hockey landscape together.

The vision is to be a global leader in winter sports and work with all stakeholders to make ice hockey an available, attractive and competitive sport and to generate added-value for the IIHF’s members with integrity, respect, passion and community as key values.

“Every organization needs to have a strategic plan. We need to have an anchor so the whole family knows in which direction we are going and that we know where the focus will be for the next four years. It will set the frame of how we work together as a family,” said IIHF Regional Vice-President Henrik Bach Nielsen, who chaired the steering committee and presented the strategy plan together with fellow Council members Anders Larsson, Raeto Raffainer and General Secretary Matti Nurminen.

As part of the strategy plan, twelve goals and key initiatives were created to expand ice hockey, collaborate between stakeholders and be innovative.

“Some of them will be for the whole four-year period, some of them will maybe be concluded in a year. I think there will be changes and a special focus on the initiatives where we want to improve while still doing the regular work we do at the IIHF,” Henrik Bach Nielsen said.

“We listen to our membership but at the same time we need to be patient. This is not a 100-metre sprint, it’s a four-year work. We will evaluate every year where we are and hopefully in four years we will see the result.”
L-R Henrik Bach Nielsen, Matti Nurminen, Raeto Raffainer, Anders Larsson
photo: Martin Merk
Soon after the presentation the audience was split into several meeting rooms to thoroughly discuss the twelve topics of the key initiatives with experts of the respective topics joining the right room together with IIHF Council members, IIHF Office staff and marketing partners.

Ice hockey has a unique system with a vertically organized World Championship system with events at different levels with 58 different countries having been involved in the past few years and next season. What do these countries think about the pros and cons of the current structure? Part of the income from the top events is invested in the tournaments of different categories and levels to help develop ice hockey in these countries. Discussions were held whether the global structure is good and a fit considering travel and the naming of the events. Also the current standard of six-team round-robin tournaments in the lower divisions and what an increase could mean considering attractiveness but also availability of facilities was a topic.

How can people be brought together apart from the congress and with more stakeholders involved? There were discussions about expectations and experiences on a global ice hockey forum, what happened in the past and in which form and frequency such a forum could be held in the future to bring stakeholders and experts together.

What aspects of ice hockey should be promoted, what are challenges in the countries to help with promotion campaigns? A quick conclusion was that needs are very different. In bigger countries promotion is about attracting new players and fans, increase female participation. For some it starts already with the very basics such as having an ice rink and with accessibility to the sport.

Another workshop was about strengthening the IIHF’s global presence with participants especially from outside the classic hockey regions in Europe and North America such as the growing number of member countries from Asia, the Middle East and Africa present in the room. What can be done to be stronger in these regions and should there be a focus on certain regions? It was discussed whether a centralized, global and unified way is better for the members or a more regionalized approach. The participants explained experiences with other sports that work well in their countries. It became clear that the member national associations value the connections and networking through the IIHF and to get the help within the international ice hockey family from people who genuinely care about them.

A popular workshop tackled development with discussions on how ice hockey does best to expand globally with more hockey-playing countries, more players and better players, on which areas to focus and on the experience with the development initiatives by delegates from different countries. The goal is to provide very member national association with a clear path forward through targeted development.
Inside one of the meeting rooms where twelve workshops were held as part of the 2022 IIHF Semi-Annual Congress in Belek, Türkiye.
photo: Martin Merk
Sustainable initiatives were a topic of timeliness with increasing energy prices in many hockey countries. Viesturs Koziols, who chairs the Facilities Committees, showed tools to manage energy consumptions and work with people from different areas to save costs. This can already start with the question of how many centimetres of ice thickness are really needed but also more complex topics of sustainability when building new rinks. Participants wish help to educate people, gain technical knowledge while discussing other areas of sustainability as well such as having more participation in their organization especially more female participation, think about food sustainability and active CO2 compensation.

In another room participants talked about digital transformation in the interaction with its membership but also possibilities to advance streaming, show more content from different countries and what kind of webinars and online workshops could be helpful.

The Olympic Winter Games are major event in the international ice hockey calendar and the other way around ice hockey is a driving sport in terms of popularity and TV figures for the Olympics. Yet only two sets of medals can be won in ice hockey, one in the men’s and one in the women’s tournament. The attendants discussed what the IIHF can do to use the Olympic Winter Games in a best possible way for its membership and to promote ice hockey, and whether the Olympic Qualification system is good as it is right now.

3-on-3 ice hockey not only for practices but as a discipline was another topic where participants learned about existing examples of 3-on-3 events from the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games to the 3Ice League. One common determinator was the different aspects of 3-on-3 hockey. It can be used as a development tool in youth hockey played cross-ice and in countries that don’t have a full-size ice rink. But should it be 3-on-3 on the full ice sheet at pro level? Another question was if and in which form 3-on-3 ice hockey could become a discipline at the Olympic Winter Games with 2030 as the next-possible target.

Women’s hockey has improved a lot during the last 10 years both in terms of quantity – registered players – but also in terms of quality with the top female players improving as athletes and the top teams playing at a higher level. However, the participation of female players is still far away from equal numbers between men and women. Delegates involved in women’s ice hockey discussed together with IIHF Council members Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer and Marta Zawadzka the situation and challenges in their countries, what can be done so ice hockey won’t be perceived as a sport mainly for men and to take fear of danger away from parents since ice hockey is a safe sport for girls same as for boys. Other topics was retention to keep women in ice hockey longer or have women from ice skating sports join and get more support from clubs that are big on the men’s side.
IIHF Council members Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer and Marta Zawadzka talk with the participants of the women’s hockey workshop.
photo: Martin Merk
National teams of the different categories beside the World Championship tournaments also play tournaments organized between the involved countries during International Breaks. Is the balance between league play and national team play right and what can be done to increase attractiveness not only for the national associations but also for players, leagues and clubs? The feedback was that the national team breaks are important for the national associations not only to have an event and an income opportunity but also for the players who want to represent their countries and for the management to scout and develop players in a national team environment. There is interest to have meaningful competitions and the feeling that national team games are sometimes underestimated as a tool to grow hockey by leagues and clubs as many people who are not die-hard hockey fans come to hockey through national teams.

Commercial partnerships help to generate income for non-profit hockey organizations to get the means to develop the sport at an international, national and regional level but also for the exposure of ice hockey. The IIHF wants to drive partnerships that serve the best interest of ice hockey and players and strengthen commercial partnerships to optimize media and marketing efforts. Participants in the workshop discussed what more can be done, how partnerships can be optimized for top events and how smaller events be marketed.

“I was very impressed with the presence and activity, with the questions and solutions by the participants. Of course it’s a lot of things in a short time but I really like to see how our member national associations receive our call for interaction and discussion,” Henrik Bach Nielsen said after the conclusion of the workshops.

With the presentation of ICE26 the hard part of implementing the strategy and working on the key initiatives has started, and it did so with a lot of engagement from members from all around the world.

Click here for a booklet about the IIHF Strategic Plan 2022-2026 "ICE26"