(ATR) It has been called one of the fastest and coolest sports that you’ve never heard of.
Sweden and Finland have won all 11 world championships between them (IFF Flickr)
As the ongoing 2018 Men’s Floorball World Championships in Prague are on track to be the most attended and watched ever, International Floorball Federation (IFF) leaders are confident that is quickly changing.
Floorball federation secretary general and former head coach of the Finnish women’s national team John Liljelund says there is staggering growth for the relatively unknown sport.
“It is overall the fastest growing team sport in the world in terms of number of players,” Liljelund tells Around the Rings
at the O2 Arena in Prague.
According to Liljelund there were 356,000 registered floorball players and four million recreational players per the last survey in 2017. In 2008, there were 266,000 registered and just 1.6 million playing recreationally.
IFF president Thomas Eriksson and secretary general John Liljelund (ATR)
Liljelund also points out that there are more registered floorball players than ice hockey players in Finland. It is the second largest sport in Sweden and third biggest in the Czech Republic.
Floorball president Thomas Eriksson says the attraction of floorball is that it requires minimal equipment investment and is easy to start playing, yet is also thrilling and challenging to play at the highest level.
“It is easy to pick up, yet hard to master from a practical point of view,” Eriksson tells ATR
. “It’s fairly cheap and also very accessible.
“We can play with lots of formats which can be appealing and it is excellent youth oriented which I think is the key to our success in the future.”
An opening weekend attendance record was established in the Czech capital, with 31,073 spectators attending six matches split between the 17,500-capacity O2 Arena and the substantially smaller Arena Sparta. Monday’s totals were significantly more modest, though local schoolchildren helped to fill the seats.
Sweden defeated Finland 5-4 on opening night at the O2 Arena (ATR)
“Czech Republic is a big floorball country and I love to play here,” said Sweden’s Rasmus Enstrom after a 5-4 victory over Finland on opening night. “The audience was electric, it was very loud here and it will only get louder for the playoffs.”
Sixteen countries and 320 players are competing in the 12th edition of the bi-annual event in the Czech capital from Dec. 1-9.
The fast-paced six-on-six team sport, which is similar to ice hockey without the ice or fierce body checking and played with a plastic wiffle ball, is striving to expand its global footprint well beyond its Scandinavian origins. Sweden (eight) and Finland (three) have won every gold medal at the previous 11 world championships. The two rival nations have faced off in nine of the 11 finals.
As of Friday, 90 countries will be recognized by the IFF with the most rapid development coming in southeastern Asia. Teams from Japan, Australia, Singapore, and Thailand are squaring off against the more traditional European nations in Prague.
World Championships on the Olympic Channel
Of the 48 contests in Prague, 43 will be broadcast and 19 will be seen on the Olympic Channel. Livestreams and domestic coverage of games are also available in 10 countries.
“We were the second sport to have a live broadcast on the Olympic Channel with our world championships in Riga two years ago,” Liljelund noted.
“We’ve been working very closely with them since then and that’s part of our strategy. We use the revenue from TV income to put the signal out as much as possible.”
Danish goaltender Mike Trolle (1) against Finland (IFF Flickr)
Players concur that floorball’s growth potential is widely untapped.
“Certainly the sport is on the rise – for the first time this sport is being shown on national television in Denmark,” says Danish goaltender Mike Trolle. “Hopefully that will attract new sponsors and viewers not in the floorball world to watch this because it is very viewer friendly.”
Finnish ice hockey star and NHL Stanley Cup champion Teuvo Teräväinen is also giving floorball a boost in a new video in which he proclaims that “floorball is the best practice for ice hockey players.”
Floorball was contested at the 2017 World Games in Wroclaw, Poland and will once again be on the program for the 2021 edition in Birmingham, Alabama. The IFF officials see this as a golden opportunity to showcase and develop the game in the U.S., especially on the university and club levels.
“The World Games is predominant for us in the sense that we need to be there because with the new system they have, it needs to be evaluated after every Games which is a good thing for us,” Eriksson adds
Eriksson affirms that the Prague World Championships, which conclude on Sunday with the gold and bronze medal games, will only expand floorball’s global footprint.
“Floorball will be perceived and looked upon just like any other sport with people watching on their sofas at home,” Eriksson said.
“The fact is after every championships the number of spectators, reach with media and social media just gets bigger and that’s why the Olympic Channel is so important for us.”
ATR coverage of the World Floorball Championships is made possible by the generous support of the IFF.
Written and reported by Brian Pinelli in Prague