ZURICH – Over 120 ice hockey representatives, including former players, game officials, medical doctors, and trainers, have gathered together in Zurich this week for the IIHF Central Committee Meetings.
The three-day event began on Wednesday and is a¬¬imed at promoted synergies and fostering new partnerships among the various committee members, who come from a wide range of backgrounds but share the same love and passion for the sport.
In all the IIHF has 19 committees and working groups, whose new members were named during the 2016 IIHF Semi-Annual Congress last September. The central meetings mark the first time that these member have gotten together. In total 124 different persons coming from 31 different countries were named to the committees as suggested by the IIHF membership. This number does not include ad-hoc members and external experts who may be involved as well.
The Central Committee Meetings opened with a welcome speech from IIHF President René Fasel. He pointed out the challenges facing ice hockey, specifically his concerns with player safety, which will be addressed by the Player Safety Committee comprised of acting IIHF Vice-President Bob Nicholson, and includes former and current hockey players like Jiri Fischer, Stéphane Quintal and Victor Stancescu.
“Player safety must be one of our biggest priorities,” said Fasel. “This is why we decided to have these meetings, to help bring in ideas from all the experts. It’s not a simple solution, we need advice from doctors, from players, from equipment manufacturers. Most of these experts are here with us today.”
The committees are highly specialized and designed to come up with concrete recommendations to improve the sport of ice hockey. Aside from the usual committees for Competition, Development, Coaching, and Officiating to name a few, new committees have also been created to help tackle some of the modern new the IIHF faces in the modern sports world.
For example, a TV/New Media/Marketing Committee will follow developments in the area of new media and evaluate new elements in the sports marketing, such as virtual advertising. An independent Ethics and Integrity Committee has also been set up to advise the Council and the President on all elements of an ethical nature and develop educational materials and measures for all other Committee members and other IIHF bodies on ethical correct behavior.
Another topic mentioned by Fasel in the opening session was the need to promote the sport in Asia, a responsibility largely falling to the Asian Committee headed by Thomas Wu but could also foster synergy efforts with other committees like TV/Broadcast.
“With the Olympics coming to Asia twice in Korea and then China, we need to treat these events as a tool to help to promote the sport in this region. Chinese President Xi Jinping said that he wants to have 300 million Chinese practise winter sport. If ice hockey can catch even one percent of this number that’s three million new players, more than the rest of the world put together.”
The introductory presentation to the committees was given by former NHLer and current German national team coach Marco Sturm, who outlined some of the main challenges facing ice hockey. Drawing from his own experience, Sturm highlighted noticeable inconsistencies in the level of coaching training and education, which he believed is holding back player development in the growing hockey nations.
“The skill level of coaches needs to be raised, particularly at the youth level, we need to draw on the experience of top ice hockey nations and create ways where we can transfer knowledge and coaching skills to developing hockey countries.”
Sturm also mentioned the issues he has in getting players to compete in tournaments during international breaks, citing motivational issues and exhaustion due to an often busy ice hockey schedule that includes domestic games, international games, and international club play such as Champions Hockey League.
On the safety issue, Sturm was in full support of new measures like the concussion protocol, which has caused some players to be removed from a game for assessment. Despite player protest, Sturm maintain that these kinds of protocols are necessary for the long-term health of the player and to a further extent the health of the game itself.
“As a coach I respect it,” he said. “I see the need for it, if the player needs time to come back, whether it be five days or five months, he will get it.”
Following the opening day, the committees will conduct internal discussions and also hold joint meetings with each other on issues that fall into their respective realms of influence. Committee action plans will be presented on the final day on Friday, 9 December.