(ATR) "Switzerland is not just about money and chocolates and banks and insurance," IOC member and International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel tells Around the Rings
Rene Fasel was reelected in September to another four years atop the IIHF. (ATR/Panasonic Lumix)
"Switzerland is a winter sports country," says the Swiss in this wide-ranging interview organized ahead of the 2013 SportAccord Convention in Saint Petersburg, the first ever for Russia.
Read on for more from Fasel, including his thoughts on bidding for the 2022 Olympics, the race to succeed Jacques Rogge and whether NHL players will participate at Sochi 2014.
Around the Rings:
Was the omission of any guarantee for Olympics participation from the NHL’s new collective bargaining agreement part of the plan all along, or did that take you by surprise?
Absolutely no surprise at all. As you know, there was a labor dispute. The IIHF was absolutely not involved. We were definitely not party to any discussions.
Here in Europe, we have to understand that the sport in North America is actually working differently. They are independent from a national or international federation. The system in Europe is another construction, so we are used to that.
We had the lockout with the NBA last year, so we have this labor dispute here with the NHL and the NHLPA, and not having the discussion in the CBA about the participation in the Olympics is absolutely not a surprise for me.
How soon do you expect negotiations among the NHL, NHLPA, IOC and IIHF to begin?
The NHL just started playing [Jan. 19]. I expect the discussion to begin as soon as the season is underway, so we just have to wait and let them start.
After the lockout, NHL players returned to the ice Jan. 19. (Getty Images)
I’m sure we will have direct talks. We don’t know actually a location yet, but for sure it will be in New York, Toronto or Zurich. I will go wherever I need to go to make that deal. You can be assured of that.
Has Sochi 2014 done everything in its power to ensure a first-rate experience for potential NHL players at the Winter Games?
From what I have seen, Sochi is doing everything in its power to ensure a first-class experience for all Olympic athletes, not just for ice hockey. Of course, Russia is a hockey country. Russia wants the best for the best, for sure. I’m 100 percent confident.
How confident are you NHL players – besides Alex Ovechkin – will in fact appear at Sochi 2014?
I’m really confident that the NHL players will be in Sochi. We know the players want to be there. Many others, not just [top Russian and confirmed torchbearer] Alex Ovechkin, have expressed their determination to go to Sochi.
We know that all the four Olympics, we had the NHL players, and they have produced wonderful tournaments. We really know that the Olympic tournaments are good for our sport, in general for sport, and also for ice hockey. We are really confident that the Olympic spirit will prevail and that the best players will be in Sochi. This is my strong opinion.
Will you be going to Sochi for one-year-to-go celebrations?
Yes, I will be there Feb. 7, and I will also be there at the IIHF U-18 World Championship in April.
What about PyeongChang? When is the next Co-Comm scheduled?
This is in June.
We are working very hard with the organizing committee and national federation. Actually, a new president was just elected. I’m really looking forward to working together with the national federation of South Korea to do everything possible so they can participate at the tournament.
South Korea's men ended 2012 ranked 28th in the world. (Getty Images)
As you know, in the world ranking now, they are very high, maybe 26, 28. On the women’s side and on the men’s side, we will do everything possible to support the Korean federation to prepare the team for PyeongChang for 2018. It’s a challenge, but it would be not good for hockey not having the national team of Korea playing in the women’s or men’s tournaments.
Japan did it, Italy did it also. We had Japan in 1998, U.S. was easy because Salt Lake, then we had the Italian team in Torino. Canada was easy for 2010. Russia in 2014. 2018 with Korea, but I’m really really looking forward to the world qualifier for being a team in the Olympic tournament in 2018.
What about the 2013 world championships? Stockholm and Helsinki are hosting the men again. Any major changes we can expect from last year?
Around the Rings was on the scene in Helsinki for the 2012 IIHF World Championship co-hosted with Stockholm. (ATR)
No, no difference, just the exception that we will have the semifinals and final in Stockholm this time around.
Actually, the Russian team will play in Helsinki; the last time they played in Stockholm. Near the border, it will be very interesting having the Russian teams there in Helsinki. Canada will play in Stockholm, so that will be very interesting.
What about for the women in Ottawa? How are preparations coming there?
As you know, women’s hockey is very popular in Canada, and we expect a great organization, great crowds and I hope an even better competition.
Hockey is always very well organized in Canada, so we have the experience with the U-20 and the world championship in 2008. Canada is a hockey country, so it makes a lot of things very very much easier to organize, and they are so much dedicated to our sport, so no big concerns in Ottawa.
You’ve been mentioned both in Around the Rings
and elsewhere as a possible candidate for the IOC presidency. What’s going into your thinking whether to run in Buenos Aires?
IOC President Jacques Rogge and Rene Fasel together in 2005. (ATR)
I am a passionate believer in the purpose and power of the Olympic Movement. Sport is a way of life for me. Sport is my life, I would say. It’s my daily business. I’m involved in sport since many years, but today it’s my daily business. I’m involved in that. I have the passion for sport. A number of people I really respect have asked me to consider running, and so like others, I’m considering it.
At the moment, I’m giving a great deal of thought to where the Olympic Movement is today and also where it could or should go in the future. This is a very important question. I think the challenges in the future, they will be big, and also I’m getting the views of others. You can be sure that my decision to run will really be based on an assessment of sport, leadership and the Olympic Values.
The Olympics are just magic, and we should do everything possible to keep the Games like they are. That means magic. So a lot of questions about the size of the Games, about the Olympic Movement, working together with the NOCs, the IFs and the IOC. The membership is also a question we have to speak about.
Anyway, it’s an important decision, so I will take my time, study the issues, and at the appropriate time, make that decision yes or no.
Also this year, interested cities must take the first steps toward bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics. What are your thoughts on whether Switzerland should bid?
As you know, St. Moritz organized the Games in 1928 and 1948, and then Davos is well-known for the World Economic Forum, so two great places and I think it’s a good opportunity to show Switzerland to the world.
St. Moritz staged the 1928 and 1948 Winter Olympics. (Getty Images)
Switzerland is not just about money and chocolates and banks and insurance, but also about sport. Switzerland is a winter sports country. We also have the offices in Lausanne, the IOC. It’s a sport nation.
So we are just waiting now for the vote on the 3rd of March about if the canton of Graubunden – that’s the canton where St. Moritz and Davos are – the people will vote about if they will bid for 2022, so it’s very interesting.
Switzerland is a democratic state, so you ask a question, it’s yes or no. If they bid, it will be very interesting. We know some other cities are preparing like Oslo, Ukraine, Poland, Spain, so very interesting to bid for 2022. The more cities we have, the better it is.
Anything else new and different coming up for the IIHF this year?
Just keeping busy. It will be a really important year for us. Preparing the Olympic Games in Sochi. Once again, we expect the players from the NHL to be there. That’s all. Just working for the good of sport.
Interview conducted by Matthew Grayson.
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