Semi-Annual Congress in Tunisia – Day 2

“The future belongs to the young.”

Day two of Congress in Tunis started an hour later (to Sean and mine’s delight as jet lag was definitely setting in by now) because all countries that were hosting tournaments in 2010 had a meeting specifically about hosting. Congress began for us at 10am, and the agenda for Day Two was: the Restructuring Proposal, the World Championships and Congress in Germany in 2010, issues RE: Greece and Armenia, Financial Reports for the Year, the IIHF’s Nike Contract, the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, Italy, 2010 Youth Olympic Winter Games, U20s, and Women’s U18s.

Germany gave a major presentation on their plans for the World Championships this year. Most of the information was not directly relevant for issues within the IIHA. However, some interesting marketing strategies were showcased, such as the creation of an official mascot for the tournament, the coming together of all teams and leagues in Germany to help advertise the Championships – i.e. the tournament logo on every ice surface, etc., advertising pylons throughout German cities, Celebrity endorsements who act as ambassadors for the game from different aspects of German society (everything from a weather lady to German hockey legends), and a “Roadshow” which is a very eye-catching bus decked out with advertising for the tournament which tours Germany and neighboring countries throughout the year, visiting league games and promoting the World Championship Games.

The news we received in our Division III meeting regarding the political situation in Greece was announced to the whole Congress.

Despite the horrific tragedy that the Armenian Federation has recently been through, they said that they will still host the tournament, which of course received a warm round of applause from the whole Congress. We also learned that the Georgian Federation, although they are not a full member of the IIHF because they don’t meet the minimum standards, will play in several exhibition games during the tournament in Armenia. This will not only help the Georgian hockey players, but it will also help the rest of the teams at the tournament get in a good friendly warm-up before their tournament begins.

In regards to the Restructuring Proposal, it was reiterated that we must get back to Dave Fitzpatrick of the IIHF before November 15th with our feedback. The Interim Directors have decided that this Restructuring Proposal will be posted on shortly so that everyone in our community can read it for themselves. It will be up to the New Executive that will be elected on November 1st to get back to the IIHF with the IIHA’s official concerns, comments, and questions about the Proposal.

In regards to the IIHF’s Financial Reports, some complex financial reports were explained to us with the help of a powerpoint presentation. They remained way beyond me for the most part. However, Horsh Licthner, the IIHF’s General Secretary, explained that all in all, the IIHF is in good shape!

We were also told about the IIHF’s ongoing contract with Nike. In the summer of 2010 a new one would be “redrafted” and signed in May. This will be approved at Congress. From the floor, France asked if individual countries could somehow “get in on” or be involved with Nike as well on a direct level. For example, they would like their replica jerseys to be made by Nike. It was said that this was up to Nike in France, but a good idea nonetheless.

The discussion then moved on to the Vancouver Olympics. Although this topic does not directly concern the IIHA, we learned that they hope to have in all games 1 NHL Referee, 1 IIHF Referee, 1 NHL Linesman, and 1 IIHF Linesman. This is an interesting system, and although there may be inherent problems (i.e. Referees being uncomfortable with one another and having to adjust in a matter of days), the effort to incorporate both the IIHF and the NHL is commendable. Also, in the future a system like this could open up fantastic opportunities for our own referees. The future is bright!

We were told that the Italian Ice Hockey Federation has been awarded full-membership of the IIHF, as they had fulfilled all the relevant criteria to do so, and this received a standing ovation from the room.

The most exciting news of the day was by far the announcement of the 2012 Youth Olympic Winter Games. These games are really exciting for a country like Ireland as they will give the talent we have in this country an opportunity to shine at the highest level internationally. And even more importantly, they are aimed at getting the youth (ages 14-18) back into sports, as the number of kids participating in sports has been decreasing over the years. An indicator of this trend is the increase in the incidence of childhood obesity throughout the world. The games, which aim to inspire the young to become involved in sport, will take place in Innsbruck, Austria from January 13-22, 2012. For hockey specifically, there will be two tournaments: a Male Under 16 Event and a Female under 18 Event. Each of these tournaments will consist of a round robin tournament and a skills competition. There will be a minimum of 24 National Associations/maximum of 39.

The IIHF will operate the selection of nations, officials, and the Skills Competition Protocol, and the member associations themselves will select the players that will compete in the skills competition. We are supposed to host the skills competition nationally, and provide the IIHF with updates. In May there is meant to be a workshop in relation to the Skills Competition, which will cover protocol, testing, and tool kits. October 1, 2010 to May 7, 2011 will be the “Qualification Period” and from May 11, 2011 will be the Deadline for qualified athletes. In July 2011, the IIHF will hold their Hockey Development Camp at Vierumäki, which will be the Final Qualification Round. There will be 15 females and 15 males selected from here. Then, of course, in January 2012, the competition takes place.

The General Secretary assured us that all information will be provided to us, and will also be on the web for constant reference. He also explained that the Skills Competition is an opportunity for young individuals to succeed. Uniquely, the system that they have set up means that members from smaller countries, like South Africa (or Ireland of course!) will be able to win a medal or medals at these Olympic Games.

Obviously, much more information on procedures and rules is needed on these Youth Olmypic Games, but they appear to be a very exciting opportunity, and I have no doubt that the talent we have within Irish Ice Hockey will be on display at these Youth Olympic Games in 2012.

In regards to the Under 20 World Championships, it was noted that the transition from full face mask to visor means that mouth guards are required. As the wearing of mouth guards has not been complied with the way the IIHF would like, it has been decided that a fine of 500 Swiss Franks will be imposed on a team for each infraction. The USA delegates asked that a warning be given first, and then fines imposed. This was seen as reasonable from everyone in the room.

Another interesting suggestion that I believe would be a good idea for our own Association to implement in our national leagues is that all IIHF on-ice officials must receive medical clearance (including an EKG) from a Medical Doctor in order to referee an IIHF game.

Lastly, a question was raised regarding goaltender’s equipment at the Women’s Under 18 level. It was asked whether or not their equipment would be pre-measured before the tournament, and the answer was yes, as it is at all levels.

That was it for Congress for the IIHA. After some rest on the beach and camel rides, it was time for a lovely evening which consisted of an “Arabic Nights” dinner with belly dancing and fantastic Tunisian cuisine. Sean and I sat with the Greek and Polish delegates and got the pleasure of meeting hockey legend Vladislav Tretiak.

All in all, the amount of information we took in over two days was great. We met the “big” hockey countries, the small, and everyone in between and were able to make connections and friendships for the future. Despite the hardships we face internally and externally, the future is bright and the focus on youth and development is key. With the success of the Dundalk Jr. Bulls, the Jr. Belfast Giants, the new Jr. Castlereagh Spartans, as well as the new Learn-to-Play program in Dublin, let’s hope we can continue to move forward and develop the sport that we all love.

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