By Kristen Lipscombe
Some of the most prominent executives in hockey gathered together Saturday to thank everyone involved with the organization of the 2004 IIHF World Women’s Hockey Championship.
Hockey Canada President Bob Nicholson and Chairman of the Board Allan Matthews joined International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President Rene Fasel and Vice-President Walter Bush to recognize all the efforts that have gone into this event.
The panel thanked Event Chairperson Fred MacGillivray, the organizing committee and the many volunteers who are continuously working hard to make this year’s World Championship in Halifax a tremendous success
“To you and the hundreds of volunteers, thank you for your commitment,” said Nicholson.
“This place is a great hockey place,” agreed Fasel. “I am always very impressed when I come to Canada, especially here in Halifax, when I see all the people working here as volunteers. They’re doing a great job.”
“The women’s game is a great game,” he added. “We support women’s hockey in our federation.” Fasel said that further growth of the sport will only come with continued hard work and patience as women’s hockey continues to develop in Canada and abroad.
Fasel discussed IIHF plans to develop women’s hockey in the European nations. While the sport in Canada and the United States continues to prosper and improve, the gap between skill development in North America and Europe appears to be decreasing relatively slowly.
The IIHF plans to initiate a hockey skills camp for women in Finland, hold workshops on the development of the sport and organize an under-20 World Junior Championship for the female game. The federation plans to identify countries with a strong interest in the sport and hold development camps aimed at those nations.
“Women's sport is not so popular in Europe, which is our problem,” commented Fasel. “I’m sure we can bring more interest from the European side to develop women’s hockey.”
Bush added that only 400 men and women play hockey in China out of a population of 1.3 billion people – indication of how far behind Asia is in terms of the sport’s growth. “Whether they’ll continue to grow, it’s very difficult (to say),” said Bush.
“You come from Canada, which has a culture (where) hockey is a religion,” added Bush. He said that is has taken 50 years to develop hockey to where it is on the men’s side internationally and that “it will take a long time” to develop the women’s game to a point where it is at an equivalent level.
“You’ve set the standard so high,” said Bush regarding the strength of the Canadian women's hockey program. “We’re working hard at (growth). We do believe in it and we're not going to quit.”
Canada has put a bid in for the 2008 Men’s World Championship. Quebec and Halifax hope to host the event on the 100th anniversary of the IIHF. The other candidates for hosting honours are Germany and Sweden.
“This is an excellent opportunity to bring it to Canada,” said Nicholson. The final decision will be made by the IIHF in May 2004.