By Martin Merk –

Delegates from most of the 77 IIHF member countries came together for the 2016 IIHF Semi-Annual Congress to discuss about the upcoming season but also about the future.

It was the first Congress for the IIHF Council that was newly elected for a four-year term in May and the International Ice Hockey Federation’s executive body wanted to use this opportunity to interact with the delegates in workshop sessions led by IIHF President René Fasel.

The planned committees were presented to the delegates by their chairpersons and the delegates and guests had the opportunity to ask questions and give their inputs. It was a session and opportunity that was visibly appreciated and used by the IIHF membership.

The session started with A like Asia. With the next two Olympic Winter Games in the Far East, the session started with the Asian Committee led by IIHF Vice President Thomas Wu.

“Asia is a big market of growth. We have more than 20 members but the standard of hockey is at a very different state in the various countries and grows at different speeds. We work among the countries but also with the entire hockey world to get support from the bigger countries,” Wu said.

Asked about the new KHL team in Beijing, Wu praised the initiative to bring that calibre of hockey to China and to make people interested in hockey.

During the next winter, the Asian Winter Games will also be on the list. 20 countries expressed the interest to play with 20 men’s and seven women’s team at the event in Sapporo, Japan.

Next was IIHF Council member and former world-class goalie Vladislav Tretiak with the Athletes Committee.

“We think about safety, about respect. Some parents don’t want to send the players into the game because they’re afraid of injuries,” Tretiak expressed one concern specifically mentioning head injuries. Another is the position he used to play himself.

“Today we have very big goaltenders who are up to two metres tall. We need to think about changing the equipment or making the goals bigger. Nobody wants to see 0-0 games. We will keep thinking about how to improve the game for the public,” he said.

It’s this but also many other topics the committee members will discuss to make sure the athletes’ voice is represented within the IIHF.

“We have to listen to athletes about their concerns on food, accommodation, formats and other topics. It’s our mission to listen to them. We have to promote hockey especially in the field of player safety,” he said.

That’s a good buzzword since there will be a Player Safety Committee in place as well. It will be a committee with wide representation with experts from different areas.

“It’s about rules, equipment, facilities, coaches. We will be working with all other committees to get inputs,” said IIHF Vice President Bob Nicholson, who will chair the committee. “To recruit and retain players you need a safe game for top players, young girls and boys. We need to have rules and an environment in place to have the safest possible conditions.”

Newly elected Council member Franz Reindl will chair the Competition & Coordination Committee where he has previously served as a member. As the title says it’s about competitions but also to coordinate the efforts with representatives from different stakeholders – IIHF, national associations, leagues and clubs.

“It’s more than 100 games for the best players, it’s incredible,” the Olympic bronze medallist of 1976 said. “We need to co-ordinate it. It’s homework on one side but on the other side we have to bring people together on one table to find solutions. To fulfil the mandate we need the right people to do it and we need to listen. Then we can create something together. We have a lot to talk and we have a lot to solve.”

The IIHF goes a slightly different way for the Coaching Committee where Hockey Canada President and CEO Tom Renney will be the co-chair. He’s not a Council member but his experience in this area is second to none working with grassroots program to top-level hockey in Canada and having been a top-level coach with the Canadian men’s national team and NHL clubs until just a few years ago.

“I see opportunities for ice hockey to do exceptional things through our great game. The leadership of coaches is very important in the children’s lives,” he said.

He also thinks about a certification program that’s harmonized globally, but first about auditing around the world where the countries and their philosophies are. “Once we understand where people are in the game of coaching development, then we can think about what to do. In today’s world coaching couldn’t me more important in any sport. It’s important for the lifestyle of people.”

The Event and Evaluation Committee will be led IIHF Vice President Kalervo Kummola, who talked in his speech about the immense development in the last decades that can also be seen in the World Championship program with many new venues that have been built. “Getting new facilities is important not only to host championships but also the leave a legacy and help the local people,” he said and hopes that there will be more applicants for top-level events in the future.

The Ethics and Integrity Committee has been newly established for the new four-year term and will be led by outgoing IIHF Council member Beate Grupp and as an external person Michael McNamee.

“If you hear the word ethics, it’s not always associated with good thoughts,” Grupp said in reference to other organizations making headlines. “When we sit here in four years we want to have positive thoughts about ethics and integrity. It’s educational, advisory instruments that will have a positive impact in our family. We will have a lot of success and positive impact,” she said.

Michael McNamee is an expert in sport ethics and a professor at the University of Swansea in Great Britain.

“The principles of good governance, accountability, transparency and so forth are nowadays taken very seriously by international organizations,” he said and praised that “the IIHF doesn’t wait for a crisis but takes an active approach in topics like anti-doping, match fixing and player safety.”

Two newly elected Council members will co-chair the Officiating Committee with Sergej Gontcharov from Belarus and Marta Zawadzka from Poland.

“One of the several tasks we have is to create a library of educational resources also to encourage young players to become referees and stay in the family, grow the pool of female referees, help also the smaller nations with their officiating programs,” said Gontcharov. Zawadzka will bring in valuable on-ice experience as a long-time referee and from the women’s hockey side.

The Youth & Junior Development Committee will be chaired by new Council member and former Czech national team goaltender Petr Briza, who recently led the successful 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship organizing committee and is the owner and chairman of Czech club Sparta Prague.

“We want to help the development process, what happens at the clubs with the kids between 6 and 15,” Briza said. “During the last five years we have had 250,000 more players who play around the globe, especially more female players. Everybody needs a long-term plan. More players means better quality of hockey. We have to make the work right because mistakes we do now will be felt in 15 years.”

The growth of women’s hockey remains in focus and the Women’s Committee will be co-chaired by the two female Council members, long-time Hungarian national team player Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer and Marta Zawadzka.

“Women’s ice hockey is still one of the fastest growing female sports in the world and the development globally is very fast,” Kolbenheyer said. “The North American countries are still far ahead and we need to support the other countries to develop women’s hockey. It’s a special committee since it touches many aspects of hockey and other committees as well.”

While many committees deal with core aspects of the sport there are also several committees dealing with other important topics surrounding it.

Kalervo Kummola will chair the newly created TV/New Media/Marketing Committee with his business background from television in Finland and his role in the negotiation process of the new marketing contract with Infront Sport & Media.

“It’s a fast-moving world and we want to be at the top,” he said about the current development. “We want that people are following ice hockey every day.”

With Don DeGregorio an person with vast legal experience from USA Hockey will lead the Legal Committee as well as the new IIHF Governance Reform Group. He and IIHF General Secretary Horst Lichtner outlined that in 2018 it will be the next time to make changes to the IIHF Statutes & Bylaws, so the work is starting soon and the membership can start thinking about proposals for the period changes can be suggested next summer.

IIHF Council member Luc Tardif will continue as Treasurer for the new four-year term and also chair the Finance Committee while Henrik Bach Nielsen will continue as chairman for the Medical Committee. IIHF President René Fasel will chair the Executive Committee and the Historical Committee.

The Disciplinary Committee will continue with Gerhard Mosslang as an independent chairman. “We have to deal with rule violations, anti-doping infractions and ethics and we need inputs from both sides, judges and players,” he said reflecting the tendency to get more former players involved.

Frank Gonzalez will continue with the Facilities Working Group.

“It is important to work with the countries and also other committees such as the Asian Committee with China having the ambition to build 1,500 new ice rinks,” he said but mentions also other examples as regions of potential growth such as South America and Turkey. “For new facilities it’s important not to do the same mistakes that others experienced before.”

Like in the past Beate Grupp will be responsible for Environmental & Social Activities. Her work in the past terms included environmental initiatives but also cooperation and promotion of sledge ice hockey. “There can be a lot of win-win situations for the federations not only money-wise when they think of the environment and social aspects,” she said.

There were many committees to introduce and many topics to discuss. After the committee structure has been determined, the composition of the various committees is being worked on. The full list of committees and members will be published on at a later date and a kick-off meeting for the committees is planned in Zurich in December.