Austria seeks to normalize Integrity
by Derek O'BRIEN|18 APR 2024
photo: © International Ice Hockey Federation
When the IIHF introduced its Integrity Officer Program in 2022, its more than 80 Member National Associations   had programs at various levels of development. Some were very advanced, such as USA Hockey, which played a leading role in the establishment of the international program and its four pillars: Anti-doping, Abuse and Harassment, Competition Manipulation and Ethics. Others, such as the Turkish Ice Hockey Federation, were starting from scratch.

The Austrian Ice Hockey Federation (ÖEHV) was somewhere in the middle. It was already cooperating with national organizations to deal with Anti-Doping and Abuse and Harassment and was a member of the Sport and Human Rights Working Group.

“When the IIHF launched the Integrity Program, we immediately adapted the four pillars into our program and started working on each of the pillars one by one to create our own ÖEHV Integrity program around it,” said ÖEHV Integrity Officer Timo Gless. “Where it was easier in the Anti-Doping pillar for example, due to our preexisting cooperation with the NADA Austria, for other pillars there was more work to be done.”

Not long after the IIHF Integrity Workshop in Prague in November 2022, the ÖEHV partnered with the Play Fair Code, an initiative for clean and manipulation-free competitions that is supported and funded by the Austrian Ministry of Sport. 

“We implemented a program which includes seminars and workshops with all our national teams (male and female), referees, players and coaches of our U18 and U20 international leagues, as well as employees of the Austrian Ice Hockey Federation.”

“In another pillar, Abuse and Harassment, we also had preexisting cooperation with 100% Sport,” Gless  said about the non-profit organization established and funded by the Austrian Ministry of Sports for a safe and inclusive environment for sports. “We have deepened that relationship ever since. This includes meetings and workshops on a regular basis, together with other Integrity Officers from different sports federations in Austria, as well as implementing and updating our guidelines, codes of conduct and regulations.” 

“With Hockey is Diversity, a German non-profit organization, we have a partner with a focus on discrimination, racism, sexism, and homophobia in hockey  ,” said Gless. “Their experience with these topics, especially in the world of hockey, will help us to improve the environment for our participants. This includes workshops with our national teams and the implementation in our coaching education courses to make the next step in prevention work.

“Overall, since August 2022, we have made huge improvements in the ÖEHV Integrity program, which is a constantly evolving program that needs an increasing amount of attention as the word Integrity in sport is getting more present every day.”

Integral to that improvement is inspiration from other countries and guidance from the IIHF.

“The IIHF has supported us Integrity Officers with workshops for the different pillars, best practice models from other MNAs or international organizations, and insights from IIHF partners,” said Gless. “Naomi Bloetjes, the IIHF Integrity Officer, together with the IIHF Legal Department, are a constant support for our integrity agenda and help with possible cases or incidents.”

While ÖEHV’s reporting system has yet to receive any severe cases, Gless is aware that there is still much work to be done before he can confidently say that the system is working as intended. For that to happen, there needs to be a wider buy-in from all participants.

“The biggest challenge we have in Austria is to get the conversation started about Integrity, within the clubs, with coaches and parents,” he said. “It seems like everyone knows about the importance of integrity in sports, but no one really wants to talk about it. There is general acceptance for the different programs and initiatives but getting involved and actively doing something for prevention is a different story. 

“All participants in our sport have to understand that prevention is one of the biggest tools in Integrity,” said Gless. “Not talking about it, avoiding the topic in general doesn’t help. This message we want to get to the coaches, parents, players, referees, and everyone else involved in our sport, to get the conversation started in the clubs and normalize the word Integrity.”