Hockey Needs a FIFA-like Organization

Steve ThompsonAnalyst IIIAugust 26, 2010

10 Nov 2000:  Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the Russian team tangles with Stephen Gionta #91 of the USA in the second period during the Men's 5 Nations Cup, a preview to the 2002 Winter Olympics, at the E Center in West Valley City, Utah.   Russia defeated the USA 4-1 in the game of Under-18 National Teams.  <DIGITAL IMAGE> Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr/ALLSPORT
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

The current, irregular "International Hockey Summit" being held in Toronto shows the difference between international soccer and international hockey.

This unusual gathering, perhaps the first in memory, is supposed to come to grips with thorny problems and launch new ideas and directions for hockey.

It is being attended by the heads of the IIHF, the NHL, the KHL, heads of various other international hockey bodies, including women, players, and whoever else is considered a big-wig in the world of international hockey.

All these "equals" are airing their differences and proposing new concepts to be tried to increase interest in hockey around the world.

So far, the most tangible proposals are a revival of the dormant World (Canada) Cup to be played every four years, in between Winter Olympics; scrapping the World Championships during Olympic years; and a brand new concept called a Victoria Cup which would pit the two Stanley Cup finalists in a mini-tournament against the KHL champion and a European Champion.

There is also the squabbling over NHL participation in the Sochi Olympics of 2014, and money compensation for NHL players who play in the Word Championships.

All this points out one big difference between international soccer and international hockey.

In soccer, there is one recognized international organization that sets the rules and tournaments for soccer, FIFA. In hockey, there is nothing.

In soccer, the World Cup is played every four years without fail, unless there is a world war or major catastrophe.

FIFA also sets up the ways and means countries qualify for the World Cup tournament, recognized international rules, and Olympic participation by its members.

Every country knows the rules and agrees to abide by them.

Hockey is the one professional North American sport that can really internationalize itself, perhaps one day attain the status of number two sport in the world behind soccer.

But this present conference, while it is good to bring the various powerful international hockey bodies together, in a lot of ways has just led to a lot of hot air being released, people walking in circles, instead of constructive progress.

Each body and individual at times, is more keen on defending their particular interest instead of doing something for the good of the game and growing international hockey.

The proposed Victoria Cup and World Cup are advocated by some and ridiculed by others.

In soccer, everything is laid out about Olympic participation. You don't hear about leagues like the NHL threatening to pull out.

In hockey there is no binding international organization like FIFA that is recognized to debate these issues and make new ideas come to pass.

Instead, interest groups set the tone of the discussions.

International hockey has problems that have yet to be aired at this conference.

There has been no mention of international hockey's poor record in growing the game elsewhere.

As mentioned in a few previous B/R articles about international hockey, since the famous 1972 Canada-USSR series, nearly 40 years ago, the same seven countries, Canada, the United States, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, and Finland, are still the dominant force in the sport.

Only Switzerland has made any progress towards raising its standard of play to the big seven level.

At every Olympic and World tournament, most games against "B level" teams are laughable mismatches.

The situation is even worse in women's hockey, where only two countries ice quality teams, and the sport is threatened with expulsion from the Olympics.

In contrast, international curling has developed successfully in several new countries including China, which won last year's women's championship.

It's too bad the present conference doesn't take the opportunity to set up an organization that everyone would recognize as hockey's governing body.

There is no attempt to imitate the Charlottetown Conference of 1864, when invited Canadian delegates to a conference to discuss Maritime union, instead proposed a vision that led to the creation of Canada.

Instead, while some good ideas have been aired, too much is being swamped by everyone, more interested in defending their own interest and empire.

So any good proposals are more likely to end up stillborn, instead of growing under a body like FIFA.


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