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OPEN LETTER to IIHF: NEW PROPOSAL FOR IIHF PARTICIPATION

Dear Ice Hockey Friends,

It has now been 2 years since the last participation of Greece in the Division III World Championships. We have watched with great interest the 2014 and 2015 Championships. While it has been great to see new countries participate we have been disheartened to see many of the lopsided results which in our humble opinion does detract from the quality of the Championships.

Since our re-entry into the IIHF family in 2008 we have taken the liberty of accumulating the following game statistics, which we of course know that you are aware of:

5-goal Differential
2008: 8 games
2009: 6 games
2010: 5 games
2012: 5 games
2013: 4 games
2014: 11 games
2015: 14 games

10-goal Differential
2008: 1 game
2009: 0 games
2010: 2 games
2012: 0 games
2013: 1 games
2014: 6 games
2015: 5 games

The sudden increase in the lopsided scores appears to coincide with the removal by the IIHF of Greece, Ireland and Mongolia after 2013 from participating in the Championships due to not meeting the minimum participation standards regarding an ice facility in the country. Prior to this change, many of these high differential games may have happened in qualifications which most likely would have led to a more competitive World Championship while allowing the countries participating in the qualifications to continue to develop the sport of hockey in their respective countries.

It is in this spirit that the following is presented in order to give you the current status of Ice Hockey in Greece, the impact of Greece’s removal by the IIHF from participating the World Championships and a new idea that can help all lower division countries develop the sport in a more structured and monitored fashion.

With the dire financial situation that Greece is in, an Olympic size rink will not be a reality in the near term, without the aid of some sort of financial angel benefactor. Despite the difficulties though, and because of an undying love of the game, some former athletes took the risk and invested in an ice rink.

Greece has now 3 permanent indoor ice rinks:

They are not Olympic size, but ice hockey is absolutely still being developed in these facilities. It’s not easy, but the sport in still alive.

The IIHF decision to exclude the Men’s National Team from International competition has had devastating results for the sport of ice hockey in our country. In only two years after this decision and the effects have been catastrophic.

In 2013, 11 Men’s teams participated in the Greek National League.
http://www.hisf.gr/icehockey/

Today, only a few teams are left; that play scrimmage hockey once a week, and organize friendly games against visiting teams from abroad. All other teams have folded or are on hiatus.

In the below chart, you can clearly see the Player registration and Team development between 1999 and 2015, and how the National Team participation has aided in the growth of both these figures. You can also see the severe negative impact that non-participation of our National team has, not only in the present time but also in the past.
Greek Ice Hockey-GrowthIn 2013, weeks before the IIHF decision to exclude Greece (together with Ireland and Mongolia) we had sent the IIHF office a long letter explaining what exactly the National Team means to our country. In that letter we went to great lengths to articulate that in other countries, the National Team is on the top of the pyramid when it comes to the development of the sport, but in Greece the pyramid is upside down – The National Team is the foundation that keeps everything else in place. Similar to any structure, if the foundation is removed, then everything above it will collapse.

Unfortunately in only two years, without the National team participating in World Championships or at least in qualifications, the development progress has regressed. Players, even those playing on weaker caliber teams, have slowly quit the sport. Government officials found the reason to stop funding the sport. Without National Team participation, there is no reason for the sport to continue existing in Greece, at least in the eyes of the government. The IIHF decision essentially handed them the keys to frankly try and eliminate the sport in our country.

National Team participation always gave us an upper-hand when it came to negotiations. Greece participating in World Championships always gave the Team Leadership [Coach, manager, Captain, etc.] the ability to advocate for the National Team, the power to knock on doors and have people listen. We were able to get funding and support for the team. It wasn’t easy but we always had the World Championships as the goal, the reason, our own Stanley Cup if you will, to assist in the process.

Despite all the negative effects that the IIHF decision has caused, Greek Ice hockey continues to exist. The sport is still being developed and the number of registered youth is increasing year-over-year – Not at the same rate it was when the Men’s National Team was participating, but it is still growing after a small drop in numbers after 2013. We are still alive albeit perhaps on life support, but a weak yet determined heartbeat is still there.

But in order for this heartbeat to continue to beat, we ask the IIHF to re-evaluate this decision. We might not have an Olympic size rink, but we do have 3 permanent ice rinks where the sport in being developed.

We need the IIHF to use Greece as an example to apply facets of its own Mission Statement – “To Govern, Develop, and Promote hockey throughout the world”.

It is critical that the IIHF please take into consideration that our National Team needs to participate in International competition. This is imperative in order to keep the sport alive so maybe one day we can see an Olympic size rink in Greece. What a success story that would be — one the IIHF could proudly claim as a shining example of its governance and benevolence that helped grow the sport of hockey around the world.

In our humble opinion, IIHF participation cannot be based simply on infrastructure.

We would like to present the IIHF with an idea that we believe will help all countries develop the sport in a more structured and progressive manner. We would like to mention that this letter is not to present the other nations in any negative light, nor do we want the IIHF to suspend other countries from participating in the World Championship. This is not our intention. We respect all nations and their efforts to keep ice hockey alive, knowing how difficult it is, especially in our countries, where the sport is not popular or widespread. The purpose of this letter is to reinforce our opinion that IIHF participation cannot be based simply on infrastructure.

We truly believe that the IIHF needs to find a new method of evaluating and monitoring the progress and development of each country, and with that level of progress to determine which country participates in the IIHF World Championships. The IIHF needs to be more involved in the development, by placing tangible objectives that the each country can reach.

This is why we created the Point System methodology that we believe can help all Nations of lower division’s progress, develop and grow ice hockey in their respective countries.

Having infrastructure as the main guideline for participation does not motivate the countries to develop the sport further. Researching information available online clearly demonstrates that many nations are re-assured that their participation status will not change as long as their Olympic rink is operational, even for a few months during the year, making the progress of the sport stagnant or very slow. We’ve also noticed that a couple of countries did not seem to have 4 Men’s teams participating in their National Championship or Cup last year, but will participate in upcoming IIHF World Championships.

Please keep in mind that the information collected was very difficult to find. Many official websites did not contain the necessary data (or data was incomplete) and others simply didn’t exist. Apart from the official country websites, we also used other resources (e.g www.eurohockey.com and www.eliteprospects.com) that might not contain accurate data, which we apologize for, but this doesn’t mean that the final conclusions are not the same.

The Point System

The Point System is a methodology where developing Nations (from Div.II, Div.III and under) will have to respect in order to participate in the IIHF events. Countries will gather points based on different categories that the IIHF will decide upon and only if they gather the necessary number of points will they be permitted to participate. Categories can be: Ice rink, Men’s League, Woman’s League and so forth. Categories that the IIHF can modify as time progresses. All countries will gather points, and even if a country does not have an Olympic size rink, but is developing the sports in other aspects they can still participate, as long as the rink has been approved by the IIHF. As time evolves, the IIHF will announce the increase of the total points gathered that will be necessary for participation, making all countries obliged to develop other facets of the sport. This way countries will have to develop the sport as a whole as years go by. They will have to develop youth hockey and woman’s hockey for instance if the points they gather do not suffice for participation.

For example: Assuming that the point-limit for participation is 170 points: if a country has an Olympic Size rink (100 points) and a 4-team Men’s League (40 points) and is running a youth development program with more than 100 registered participants (30 points) then they can participate by gathering a total of 170 points. If a country has a smaller rink that is approved by the IIHF (50 points) and a 4-team Men’s League (40 points) and is also running a youth development program with more than 100 registered participants (30 points) then that country only receives a total 120 points (not enough to participate). Therefore, in order for them to participate they will need to increase the number of teams in their Men’s teams, organize a Woman’s league or participate in various IIHF camps; activities that will gather extra points to reach the desired 170 they need for participation. After a few years, the IIHF could announce that participation will increase to 200 points in the next 2 years, which means an Olympic size rink, a 4-team Men’s league and youth development program will not suffice, making it mandatory for countries to develop the sport further.

Below is a screen shot of the excel file with the Points System. This methodology is just a draft. It can include more categories, other point-values, and in general become a tool for the IIHF to Govern, Develop and Promote ice hockey around the World, by monitoring the progress of each country, setting milestones and tangible goals for all countries.

Again, this is just a draft that may contain mistakes in calculations, but please feel free to examine. It’s an idea that can be improved by the IIHF and can help all countries develop the sport in their respective countries.

Seeing that the collection of the data for the countries used in this letter were very hard to find, we included “IIHF approved website” in the Point System methodology worth 5 points. Website hosting has become very affordable, and the fact that many internet providers offer unlimited hosting storage to customers, we propose the IIHF assist all members to create their country website.

The IIHF will give all Members storage space on their Hosting plans. For instance, either http://greece.iihf.com or http://www.iihf.com/greece

WordPress, which is an online open source website creation tool, can be used for the Website design. IIHF can decide of the Theme that all countries will use, and decide on the Pages that all websites need to contain. For instance: Teams, Standing, Statistics, Contact information etc. This way we can follow the example of the NHL where all teams are hosted on the NHL server and all team websites look similar and contain the same information. Also, when the IIHF wants to promote an event, all countries will be obliged to add that information on to their respective websites. Of course each country will be able to edit, chose the color scheme, chose their own banner, add information that they believe is relevant in their own country, but the basic look and feel of the website will be similar for all countries.

We are trying to develop the sport and the only thing that is missing from Greece is a few meters of ice. You noticed in the above graph that Greek ice Hockey grew in recent years, despite having a smaller size rink, and the only decision that halted this progress was the removal of our National Team from International competition. As we already stated, we need our National Team to participate. Our National Team is the foundation of the whole sport and only with participation can we one day have the Olympic size rink that we need.

We understand that removing us from the World Championship was a decision based on the belief that this will pressure our government. That maybe the threat of non-participation will force them to open an Olympic rink, but as you’ve seen, it had the opposite results. It actually helped the government by making their decision to eliminate ice hockey easier. Without participation of our National team, there is no point in the existence of the sport.

We would be in total accordance with the IIHF decision for removal of Greece from international competition if we didn’t have any facilities or the sport was not being developed. But this is not the case, there are permanent facilities, businesses owned by former players, and the sport was being developed with surprising increase of player registration, which was only halted by the removal of our National Team. Greek Ice Hockey was developing in all categories since our National Team qualified for the World Championships back in 2008.

Even traditional ice hockey nations like Canada is struggling in player registration lately. Of course we are not comparing to Canada in any way, but this only proves that all countries are struggling with the development of the sport.

It’s been a constant up-hill all these years, but we continue our efforts to progress the sport as best we can. We feel frankly that we are progressing at the same rate, if not a greater rate than teams participating now at the Division III championships.

We are not here to criticize but to offer solutions to the IIHF that can be applied to all Nations. A more detailed system with tangible objectives for all countries to follow is a more prudent rule.

Please re-evaluate your decision and allow our National Team to participate. It’s a matter of survival of the sport.

Thank you
Dimitris Kalyvas