Players slamming into the boards, sticks clashing on a cool blue floor, and goalies springing from side to side in an attempt to keep their team alive. It’s not ice hockey, nor is it bandy. It’s their fast paced cousin, floorball.
Floorball comes together when the players forgo cumbersome padding, substitute the puck for a whiffle ball, and play without skates on a hard floor. It’s not in the Olympic Games yet, but the International Floorball Federation (IFF) has a strategy of their own for growing the game.
“We are quite realistic,” admitted John Liljelund, IFF General Secretary. “We of course hope to be at the Olympic Games someday, but we are quite realistic that in the next upcoming 20 years that it would only happen if the host city would really, really want floorball to be on the program.”
With the United States and Australia not boasting a particularly strong tradition in the sport, Liljelund’s analysis of the Olympic landscape would seem to be on the mark. Nonetheless, floorball remains focused on growth outside the Games.
“The objective is more for us to spread the sport [and] to enlarge the membership,” asserted Liljelund.
The IFF was established in 1986. At present, it includes 77 members. The sport is predominantly played in Europe, though recent growth has focused on North America, South America, and Southeast Asia.
“The development is now strongest in Asia,” said Liljelund. He noted, “we also have very good development now in South America and Africa.”
Canada, Thailand, and the United States were given the opportunity to play against the top ranked European teams during The World Games 2022. Thailand was 20-1 by the Swedes.
“We believe that the problem for us, which is a positive problem,” interjected Liljelund, “is that the development of the sport in the top countries is still faster than the development of the sport in the developing countries.”
While it remains to be seen if the skill gap can be tightened between the dominant and developing countries, floorball continues to push ahead with lofty aspirations.
“We have a fairly big world championships, but that is not enough,” conceded Liljelund. “We realistically don’t believe that we will make the Olympics in the next 15-20 years, so for us, the target is to enter other multi-sports games.”
Floorball only joined the International World Games Association (IWGA) in 2013. It’s one of the newer sports to emerge in the hunt for multi-sports games inclusion.
“We see The World Games as an extremely important event,” noted Liljelund.
Looking ahead, he stated, “for us, the Youth Olympic Games is the next multi-sport games we are looking for, as well as the Asian Games.”
He explained, “we believe our growth will be strongest in the youth [category].” It’s a position that fits the wider growth strategy of the IFF.
“Our strategy is to concentrate on the schools, high schools, colleges, and universities because that’s where our sport will develop,” insisted Liljelund.
Like many international sports officials, he looked to market the ease of practicing floorball.
“You can be any size in floorball,” said Liljelund. “You don’t have to be tall. You don’t have to be strong. There is differences in sizes.”
One of the ideas that has emerged to further drive the development of the sport is a condensed format. Liljelund explained, “we are looking for maybe also having a new format. A 3x3 with a goalkeeper format on a smaller pitch. As an introduction into the sport.”
He added, “we believe, with the 3x3, we would have a position maybe in the Youth Olympics Games.”
Before the uncertainty surrounding the postponement of the 2022 Summer Youth Olympic Games, many team sports were set to feature in a condensed format. It remains unclear if the sports program remains unchanged for 2026, but a clear trend for team sports in the Youth Olympic Games remains apparent.
Outside of the Youth Olympic Games, Liljelund would like to see the sport included in a European multi-sport event and the World Master Games. He also noted the sports inclusion in the 2023 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games.
“We work quite closely with Special Olympics, where we have had a tremendous development,” added Liljelund. “I think we are already close to 80 programs in about 60 countries where floorball is being played.”
In terms of future appearances at The World Games, Liljelund stated, “we have been discussing that if we can’t get both genders for Chengdu in 2025…we might even say that if we don’t get both, we’ll only go with women.”
Women have never played floorball in its two official appearances at The World Games. The focus on gender parity will surely aid the sport’s future chances of Youth Olympic and Olympic Games inclusion.
Floorball may have experienced a slow start to the decade, but it’s clear the sport hopes to build to a large crescendo in the years to come.