Five candidates shooting to score top job at the International Ice Hockey Federation

Longtime IIHF president and newly inducted Hall of Famer René Fasel’s successor to be elected Saturday in St. Petersburg.

René Fasel is honored at the Legends Game in St. Petersburg (IIHF)
René Fasel is honored at the Legends Game in St. Petersburg (IIHF)

When National Hockey League stars hit the ice at the Beijing Olympic Winter Games in February, a new International Ice Hockey Federation president will be in the hot seat overseeing the tournament.

René Fasel, president of the IIHF since 1994, had planned to leave his post in September of last year, but the coronavirus pandemic forced postponement of the election. Fasel’s successor will be elected Saturday at the IIHF Semi-Annual Congress in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The five candidates vying for the top position are Henrik Bach Nielsen (Denmark), Petr Briza (Czech Republic), Sergej Gontcharov (Belarus), Franz Reindl (Germany) and Luc Tardif (France).

The members national associations will elect a new president, senior vice-president and 14-voting member Council for five-year terms. Of these members, at least two must be women.

Following 10-minute presentations by each of the candidates on Friday morning, Fasel encouraged all to embrace a new governance structure with balanced cooperation between the future president and council.

“It will never ever be just one man making a decision to do this, this and this,” Fasel said to the candidates. “Personally, it looked like I had a lot of power, but this is the wrong approach because I always had to go through a system, the bylaws, regulations and rules.

“They called me Napoleon, maybe because I have the size of Napoleon, but these guys, they were controlling me,” Fasel joked. “We had very good discussions – the dialogue and disputes and it must be like this to go forward.”

Fasel suits up as referee for the Legends Game in St. Petersburg (IIHF)
Fasel suits up as referee for the Legends Game in St. Petersburg (IIHF)

The Swiss-born president and IOC member, who suited up as referee for Thursday night’s Legends Game between Russia and “The World”, also emphasized the theme of the Congress: “Respect and Fair Play”. Forty-nine of 76 member national associations have been present in St. Petersburg for the four-day Congress with 320 delegates attending.

Here are snap shots of each of the five candidates hoping to score victories and become the 19th IIHF president tomorrow in the Russian city, which will once again host the world championship in 2023.

Henrik Bach Nielsen (Denmark)

Denmark Ice Hockey Federation president Henrik Bach Nielsen (Danish Hockey)
Denmark Ice Hockey Federation president Henrik Bach Nielsen (Danish Hockey)

Henrik Bach Nielsen has been the president of the Danish Ice Hockey Association since 2007 and is an IIHF Council member. His vision for the future of the IIHF focuses on expanding the sport globally.

Denmark was among the three final qualifiers for the Beijing 2022 Winter Games in what will mark the country’s first Olympic appearance in the sport. Nielsen offered his thoughts about further developing the sport in China and Asia after the Olympics, while proposing a new physical office on the continent.

“When René was re-elected in Moscow 2016, he said that the focus should be on Asia, and now being honest, I don’t think the development went so well, so fast,” Nielsen said.

“Maybe I’m not so patient, but I would like to see more speed on this and with two Olympics in the region, we can do better. Now it’s time to see some results.”

During Nielsen’s tenure as president, Denmark hosted the IIHF World Championship for the first time in Copenhagen and Herning in 2018, and will share co-hosting responsibilities with Sweden for the 2025 event.

Petr Briza (Czech Republic)

Czech Ice Hockey Federation vice president Petr Briza (Jan Beneš/Czech Ice Hockey)
Czech Ice Hockey Federation vice president Petr Briza (Jan Beneš/Czech Ice Hockey)

Petr Briza has been vice-president of the Czech Ice Hockey Association since 2012 and an IIHF Council member since 2016. The 44-year-old former goaltender represented his country at seven world championships and three Olympic Games.

Briza also responded to the question posed at Friday’s Congress regarding the potential of the sport in China and throughout Asia and Oceania.

“In the past, the Chinese Ice Hockey Federation had Memorandums with many European countries and the plan was over 1,000 ice rinks. There is huge potential, but we haven’t received figures and facts about development in Asia,” Briza said.

“Unfortunately, we have to learn to understand Asia more. For me, the ice rinks are crucial and we must have a sports development office in Asia because those people understand the specifics of the region. We have to go with yearly plans, execute and evaluate them after every season.

“It’s simple – we cannot start and hope that in two years there will be great revenues and great players – it takes years.”

Briza served as chairman of the 2015 IIHF World Championship organizing committee for the record-breaking tournament hosted by the Czech Republic, an event that will return to Prague in 2024.

Sergej Gontcharov (Belarus)

IIHF Council member Sergej Gontcharov (Gontcharov)
IIHF Council member Sergej Gontcharov (Gontcharov)

The 38-year-old Council member from Belarus is the youngest of the five candidates. Gontcharov released a 40-page manifesto titled “Creating the Future Now” highlighting his long-term vision for the sport and organization called “Vision 2033″.

“The reason why it got so long is because I have so many ideas, but key may be new formats and new markets by restructuring the competition formats - just three levels of World Championships,” Gontcharov tells Around the Rings. “Top Division, Division 1 and Division 2, and reaching around 2.7 billion potential people with just two events.

“Next is to develop a long-term vision - Vision 2033 - similar to the IOC’s Agenda 2020+5 to have a solid roadmap of how to grow ice hockey and make it fit for the future.”

Gontcharov addressed the question of what he could bring to the table as a young president.

“I will try to connect IIHF not only more to the IOC and other International Federations, but also to all new technologies, which will help us to make ice hockey even more exciting and successful.

“Of course, there are challenges in the future – the fans are changing, the way sports are perceived is changing, the way to watch sport is changing from TV to streaming and social media. There is a lot to do keep up with.”

Franz Reindl (Germany)

German Ice Hockey Federation president Franz Riendl (German Ice Hockey)
German Ice Hockey Federation president Franz Riendl (German Ice Hockey)

Franz Reindl has been the president of the German Ice Hockey Federation since 2014 and skated for West Germany on eight world championship and three Olympic teams, winning a bronze medal at Innsbruck 1976.

Reindl, 66, has substantially strengthened the federation, overcoming financial instability, since assuming the leadership position seven years ago.

“We created the Power Play 26 Program in Germany, uniting all the stakeholders – professionals, amateurs and regional federations,” Reindl tells ATR. “We united the family and in Germany that is our success.”

Reindl vows to bring his proven track record and know how, to achieve similar progress on a global scale, if elected as the IIHF’s next president.

“You can do the same worldwide – bring the family together – the stakeholders, the clubs, the leagues. Around the world, we have to get together, our sport, we have to sell it as one,” says the German hockey federation president.

“We have NHL, KHL, the European leagues – there is a big resource for growing the sport if we work together.”

Luc Tardif (France)

Luc Tardif, president of the French Ice Hockey Association (FFHG)
Luc Tardif, president of the French Ice Hockey Association (FFHG)

Luc Tardif has presided over the French Ice Hockey Federation since 2006 and successfully led the organization of the 2017 world championships in Paris. Like all the other presidential candidates, he is also an IIHF Council member.

“My vision is based on a cohesive and inclusive approach,” asked by ATR what he can personally bring to the leadership role. “I am totally convinced that this is the only approach to deliver a proper governance for the IIHF. Member Federations and Associations must be at the heart of the IIHF.

“Giving back a real meaning to the word family is a key challenge for the future leadership team. The IIHF family needs to go back to its roots and think, again, as a collective WE with the president as a “chef d’orchestre” (orchestra conductor).

Tardif also addressed the organization’s changing landscape and potential opportunities from the Beijing 2022 Games.

“We have now more than 80 countries as members or affiliates - with such a large family, the leadership team must improve its governance and transparency, strive for sustainable development and continuity in our work.

We will also have to keep the momentum in Asia,” he said, noting PyeongChang 2018 and Beijing 2022. “Find new ways of engaging IIHF affiliate members and newcomers will be a challenge for the future leadership team.”

Hockey Canada thanks Fasel

Fasel at the Sochi 2014 Games
Fasel at the Sochi 2014 Games

Throughout his 27 years as president, Fasel strived to strengthen relationships with the NHL across various areas, in addition to his role in bringing the North American leagues’ top players to the Nagano 1998 Games, and a return to for Beijing, after an absence in PyeongChang 2018.

On Friday, in St. Petersburg, Fasel was honored by his peers as he was inducted into the IIHF Hall of Fame.

Hockey Canada chief executive officer Tom Renney commended Fasel for his many years of dedicated service to the sport at the end of Friday’s proceedings.

“We want to congratulate you René on an outstanding run of excellence, perseverance and leadership,” Renney said. “The accolades have been many and there will be many more.

“Leadership is not a position, leadership is a disposition and from 1994 when I first met René after the gold medal game in Lillehammer – to this day, he brings the proper disposition to his leadership role every day. That’s leadership.

“René you should be commended on the proper disposition to be a leader of people and we want to thank you and wish you all the best from Hockey Canada”.

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