Canadian Tanya Foley Steps Down as First IIHF Manager of Women's Hockey

Mark StaffieriContributor IIFebruary 13, 2013

Photo by Donna Spencer of Canadian Press
Photo by Donna Spencer of Canadian Press

Tanya Foley, the first-ever women’s program manager in the history of the International Ice Hockey Federation, has resigned from her position. Citing family reasons for her departure, Foley and her family will relocate from Zurich, Switzerland to the Vancouver area.

Foley was hired for the position after International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge stated that the international women’s game needed to be more competitive.

Prior to the appointment, Foley worked for the committee that helped to organize the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games. She was a divisional coordinator and an assistant manager for ice hockey.  

Her love of hockey was fuelled by the Edmonton Oilers' Stanley Cup dynasty of the 1980s. After being told she could not compete with boys, she had the determination to form a hockey league for girls. In addition, Foley was also a former player and coach with the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.

During her tenure, one aspect that indicated an improvement in the game’s competitiveness was highlighted by Switzerland. Led by Florence Schelling, Switzerland claimed the bronze medal at the 2012 IIHF Women’s Worlds. It had marked the first medal ever for the Swiss.

The native of Edmonton, Alberta was given the responsibility of assisting struggling nations. Many of the woes of said nations included cultural and financial obstacles—primarily federations giving most of their funding toward the men’s game.

Foley was in charge of a four-year project worth CHF 2 million ($2.18 million) that would culminate with the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. With one year remaining in the project, a successor to Foley has yet to be named.

There were many efforts that Foley was instrumental behind. In 2011, she helped organize the first-ever women’s coaching symposium in Zurich (where the 2011 IIHF Women’s World Championships were held). Delegates from 26 nations attended.

In July 2011, a high-performance camp featured women’s hockey players from the top 14 hockey nations in the world. The historic camp was held in Bratislava, Slovakia.

During 2012, Foley was part of the group that helped to introduce the 2012 IIHF 12 Nations Tournament. One segment featured eight of the most competitive nations participating in one part of Europe, while another segment consisted of four less competitive nations. The goal was to give an opportunity for less competitive nations to gain more playing experience at the international level.

Her greatest legacies came with two particular initiatives. Girls' Hockey Day was a program conceived in the summer of 2010. During the first year, six different nations hosted Girls' Hockey Day. Pamphlets and other documents were translated into eight different languages, all with the goal of helping to recruit potential young female hockey players. The thinking was that more registered players would lead to stronger national teams around the world.

The second legacy was the Athlete Ambassador and Coach Mentor Program (known as AMP). Introduced in July 2011, the goal was to have players and coaches from the top four women’s hockey nations (Canada, Finland, Sweden and United States) to provide assistance to athletes and coaches from other nations, putting a system of goodwill into place.

With Melody Davidson and Hayley Wickenheiser serving as coordinators, nine nations were provided with ambassadors and mentors for their Under-18 and Senior programs. Participating nations included Czech Republic, France, Germany, Kazakhstan, Japan, Norway, Russia, Slovakia and Switzerland.

The nine nations selected were considered the highest ranked nations in women’s hockey outside of the top four. Under the program, the expectation was that mentors and ambassadors would be in communication with their assigned nations every two to three weeks. The program is expected to wrap up in January 2014, before the Sochi Winter Games.

Foley’s leadership inspired other countries to spearhead their own initiatives. One result was in Sweden (another power in women’s hockey) as they hired their first-ever manager for women’s hockey. Former Swedish national team member Erika Holst was appointed to the position.

Although Foley will be leaving just before the Women’s World Championship is contested in her homeland of Canada, other segments of her initiatives will be evident leading up to Sochi 2014. The Russian Hockey Federation is planning to host a women’s hockey tournament in the autumn of 2013. All eight countries that qualify for the Sochi Winter Games will compete.

Also in the autumn, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey are to provide assistance to other nations that qualified for Sochi 2014. The objective is to give these other nations the opportunity to compete against North American club teams in an effort to gain more playing experience.

Assuming the mantle of a position which required direction and drive, Foley did a superlative job of providing structure to the women’s division. She has created a fantastic foundation for her successor to build on.

While time will tell whether Foley’s initiatives were the blueprint for a brighter and more competitive future, the reality is that she was very ambitious and fostered a women’s hockey community based on collaboration and respect.

Although the Winter Games of Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 would indicate that Canada and the United States will battle for the gold medal, the seeds planted during Foley’s tenure may lead to some pleasant results in 2022 and beyond.