Semi-Annual Congress in Tunisia – Day 1 (Part 1)

(Part 1)
“The future belongs to the young.”

After a long day of travelling filled with generator problems, missed connections, and more delays, myself and Sean Dooley made sure we had plenty of coffee to start our first day at Congress in Tunis, Tunisia.

The agenda during the morning General Congress was varied. We started off on a very sombre and reflective note, as President of the IIHF René Fasel addressed the very sad news of the passing of Georgian and Armenian Officials and their family members on their way to Congress. He expressed his deepest sympathy on behalf of the IIHF family and said some very nice words about the individuals we had lost and their dedication to the sport over the years. We also heard a list of names of other members of the IIHF family who had passed away over the past year.

René Fasel then went on to introduce to the Congress new delegates from various countries. He gave his report for the year which was enlightening and inspiring. Highlights of René’s report included some background on our host country, including their ancient games which were “hockey-like”. René also addressed the current economic situation in the world and its impact on hockey. He detailed how the recession of course has taken its course on the Phoenix Coyotes of the NHL and the Champions Hockey League (CHL). The good news, however, is that the IIHF is doing well in spite of the difficulties we are currently facing. Commercially, sponsorship is going well and their sponsors remain on board, with their contracts running until 2017, guaranteeing income. Also, the International Olympic Committee is continuing their support of ice hockey and ensuring our success in the future.

The President also detailed his belief that “the future belongs to the young.” There is no better motto to have as we move forward in the IIHA. There is also the hope that regional events will be held outside Europe, in places like North America and Asia.

Most importantly for Irish Ice Hockey, René poignantly remarked that problems require leadership. Some of the obstacles that the IIHF is currently facing are: the 2009-2010 Champions League has been postponed as a result of financial meltdown. The energy sector withdrew its support of the CHL. As a result, 6 National Leagues have threatened legal action against the IIHF. Nonetheless, the IIHF is determined to continue working hard to fix this problem. There is also no player-transfer agreement between the IIHF and the NHL, and there are also major disputes between the NHL and the KHL (Russia). In order to fix these problems and work together for a successful future, a two-day workshop had been planned for these leagues from the 28th-29th of September to work through their disputes. Again, it was stressed that communication and leadership are key.

The President explained that in order to solve the problems that we face, solidarity is essential. We must work together. Our personal and geographic differences must be overcome. “Anyone can sail on calm seas. The IIHF can handle strong winds.”

The next part of Congress moved to a rather difficult topic, but one which mirrors the problems the IIHA has faced. Many may or may not know that René Fasel was accused of receiving “commissions or other undue payments” in connection with a grant by the IIHF of certain media rights relating to IIHF World Championship events to Infront Sports Media. Such allegations were published on 10 May 2009 in “Sonntagszeitung”, a Swiss newspaper. René has strictly denied such allegations and the Council has supported him. Yet, the IIHF also believe that they have a fiduciary duty to address this issue. To do so, they have decided to carry out on “Inquiry of Fact”, carried out by a third party expert. In order to have credibility, the IIHF said they must do this. Deloitte AG, a Swiss firm, was chosen to do the inquiry, and after four months of doing so, produced a 69 page report on the matter. The conclusions, on the whole, were that the evidence they had seen did not provide evidence of undue or improper payments to René Fasel. There was no evidence that he “is directly associated with Proc, or the Proc was, as alleged a ‘straw man’ for René Fasel.” However, Deloitte also detailed that they ran into a lack of documentation in their investigation and were hindered by a lack of access to key information.

In conclusion, Deloitte critiqued key aspects of the IIHF’s corporate governance, and said they should be corrected. As well, the IIHF should immediately commission an independent valuation of the commercial rights sold to Infront.

The discussion then went to the floor and a number of countries gave some feedback, some with differing views on the relative importance of this issue and whether it should be discussed at Congress. René said that the issue had to be discussed, as the IIHF has always been transparent and open. Murray Costello of the IIHF Council also argued that the IIHF was a family and an international organization and because of that, their credibility abroad was at stake. Thus, we had to discuss these issues openly.

While the discussion about these allegations continued for some time, it was summed up perfectly by Bob Nicholson of Hockey Canada – that we must learn from this experience. That in the future, structure and documentation must be stricter and roles need to be well-defined. This, of course, is advice the IIHA must be ready and willing to act on. Murray Costello also summed up the discussion quite well, arguing that we all have different questions and different viewpoints. This is a strength, and no one is less loyal than any other.

Next on the agenda were the many reports of the different IIHF Committees of their progress over the past year and their plans for the future. The reports, of which this is not an exhaustive list, included the Competition Committee, the Development Committee, Environmental Committee, Events Committee, Facilities Committee, Historical Committee, Legal Committee, Medical Committee, Officiating Committee, and the Women’s Committee.

Of these various reports, there were a number of issues which are of interest to the IIHA. In relation to the Competition Committee Report, we learned of some restructuring proposals that are being discussed. Some changes include an Under 19 Championship and the introduction of a Bi-Annual Championship system. The IIHF has given us a copy of the restructuring proposal. We look forward to studying this document very closely and most importantly, presenting and discussing this proposal with the members of the IIHA. By November 15, the IIHA is supposed to get back to the IIHF with their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions about the plan. We know that the IIHA members and the new Executive that will be elected in the next coming weeks will have a lot to say about this proposal to restructure. The IIHF has said that based on the feedback they get from the Associations, a Revised Plan will be sent out before the World Championships/Congress in Germany. There will also be a workshop in Germany concerning the Restructuring Plan and the final draft of the Restructuring Plan will be presented at Congress in Germany. An extraordinary Congress will then take place where this Plan will be voted on. The current directors realize the urgency and fundamental importance this issue is to our Association. Years and years of history and dedication to the sport are at stake and we will work very hard to fight for the IIHA and the other smaller nations on these issues.

The Medical Committee’s Report was also of great value. Murray Costello detailed many specific issues that we currently face, from Swine Flu to equipment to injury reports. In relation to neckguards, it was said that there is only one body authorized to certify them – the BNQ and that many brands out there are misleading and fraudulent in regards to certification. As well, the policing of neckguards is very hard on referees (if not impossible) and it is the responsibility of the team to ensure their players wear these. Visors are also a problem as many of the visors we are now seeing at the Senior level are far too narrow and are perhaps more dangerous than no visor at all.

Based on the Injury Reporting System that has been in place for 11 Years, in 2008-09 in 267 IIHF Games, there were 167 injuries reported. The most injuries occur at the Senior level and under 20 level. The women’s game has the lowest. The head and face (lacerations) are the most common injury. There were 12 Concussions last year and 15 dental injuries. Notably, the dental injuries were said to be worrying as in previous years there were around 6-8 only. There was also double the number of fractures this past year. Injuries are most common for wingers and defence. Five-on-five is the most common time for injuries and the team playing in their own “D-zone” is most likely to suffer an injury. Overall, despite injury levels going down in 2007-08, they rose again in 2008-09 and this is something we must take note of. Overall, there had also been a rise in stick and puck injuries. All of these facts are important for the IIHA to note and I am certain will be noted by our RIC and other officials.

The IIHF also had a detailed and specific protocol in the event of a Swine Flu outbreak, which is good news for both our Seniors and U18’s who will be travelling abroad in 2010. We have been given documentation on the Swine Flu which details what we need to do to ensure the health and safety of our players abroad.

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