End of an era in world hockey – Fasel retires. Now IIHF will not be spineless?
In two weeks, the IIHF Congress will take place in St. Petersburg, at which the elections of the President of the International Ice Hockey Federation will be held. The current head of the organization, Rene Fasel, is already definitely retiring, which means that a whole era will end very soon, because the Swiss functionary headed the IIHF for a long 27 years.
What did Fasel remember for such an impressive period at the helm of the main organization of world hockey? If I were asked to describe Rene in one sentence, then I would answer that Fasel is such a kind guy, always friendly and courteous, skillfully able to smooth out sharp corners and be good for everyone. But does such a characteristic mean that the Swiss was a talented manager, under which his brainchild flourished and developed? Perhaps, it is impossible to say so about Rene.
Fasel always strived for cooperation, for dialogue and did not want to quarrel with anyone. Be it the NHL, the KHL, the IOC or Alexander Lukashenko , with whom the Swiss had a personal meeting at a time when the entire progressive Western world took up arms against the Belarusian president.
Fasel always avoided harsh characteristics, unpopular decisions and liked to say what the interlocutor wanted to hear. Such behavior, of course, painted Rene as a well-mannered person and made him a welcome guest at any event, but killed a productive diplomat in him.
Over the 27 years of his reign, Fasel has established a benevolent (and somewhere friendly) relationship with the entire hockey world, but the IIHF stagnated. Rene went with the flow, treated everything with understanding, but his organization did not develop at all.
Yes, at one time it was Fasel who took part in concluding an agreement with the NHL on the participation of league players in the Olympic hockey tournament. But much more credit goes to the International Olympic Committee, which took all the costs of paying for flights, accommodation and insurance for hockey players. When the NHL recognized participation in the Olympics as useless for the organization, and the IOC refused to “pay for the banquet,” the IIHF could not do anything. Fazel and his team could neither find money, nor show off their negotiating talent.
Now the whole world must literally beg the NHL and go to all the conditions put forward by it so that all the strongest hockey players will gather at the Olympics again. And such a disposition, such an alignment of forces, when it is the NHL that dictates its own rules to all international hockey, this is Fasel’s main failure as president of the IIHF. For 27 years, he not only failed to subordinate the NHL to the interests of the International Federation (okay, it would be too difficult to restrain the “private shop”), but at least achieve a respectful dialogue. The NHL does what it sees as beneficial, international hockey suffers because of this, and Fasel (president of the world’s main hockey organization, by the way) cannot find any leverage to change this situation.
By and large, for almost three decades in power, Fasel and his management team could have made the NHL’s position as the world’s strongest league stagger. After all, for a long time the North American organization has been largely made elite by the arrival of the best European hockey players. Could the IIHF somehow struggle with the monopoly position of the NHL and the massive and regular outflow of personnel to America from Europe? I think I could at least try. Try to bring major sponsors to hockey in Europe. Try to create a powerful pan-European league, where the strongest clubs of the continent would play and the money of the richest companies would circulate. In other words, try to launch some kind of alternative to the NHL, work to consolidate the forces of small European championships, and make a large-scale hockey business project.
But this would require tough, strong-willed decisions, which Fasel, as practice shows, is incapable of. For 27 years, Rene did nothing for the IIHF to extend its influence to North America, forcing the NHL to at least partially play by the general rules. And how can you force it when there is better infrastructure, better conditions, better salaries, the best level of competition and competition across the ocean. The NHL made itself a reference organization and only then established its own rules, infringing utterly on international hockey. First of all, this should have worried the IIHF and its head, but Fasel seemed to be happy with everything. He long ago took it as an axiom that the NHL is the top, and the rest of the hockey in the world is just an appendage. But is this the right position for the President of the International Federation?
Fasel had nothing to do with the creation of the strongest club tournaments. A normal European tournament like the football champions league in hockey was never launched. There is still no stable and prestigious international tournament for national teams following the example of the football world championship: the NHL goes to the Olympics only if its draconian rider is performed, and there is no need to talk about the world championships. By the way, the stagnation of the world championships is also a big claim to Fasel. The Swiss hesitates to make them less regular in order to increase the prestige (thanks also to the fact that the deadlines have been pushed a couple of weeks ahead in recent years), and the level of world forums does not depend on the organizational skills of the IIHF, but on which hockey players come. A lot of NHL players came – it turned out to be a top-level tournament, like, for example, the 2019 World Cup.
For 27 years at the helm, Fasel was unable to find the optimal balance of power in world hockey. Has not made progress in the development of international club hockey and hockey teams. The result of his work will be correctly compared with the same activities of FIFA: in football there is a well-built system of tournaments (European and world), and you do not need to ask the conditional Premier League to let your players go to the world championships.
But Fasel established good relations with many functionaries and did not quarrel with anyone. How did he do it? Yes, he just did not make any sudden movements, did not make tough decisions. I just went with the flow.
And even in those moments when his friends needed help, Fazel threw up his hands. Why did the Russian national hockey team, never involved in doping scandals, perform at the World Cup in Riga without an anthem and a flag? I think if Rene were a slightly more decisive and persistent person, he would have defended the interests of hockey Russia, where, by the way, he is always welcomed with open arms, fed, watered and walked arm in arm with him. But Fasel has too many friends, and none of them should be lost. Therefore, in that situation, Renee did not get on the rampage to challenge the delusional sanction, but blindly obeyed it.
With Fasel at the helm of the IIHF, everyone was calm, even relaxing. A certain comfort zone was established, but international hockey did not progress in it. Perhaps, under the new president (with a high degree of probability, he will be the German Franz Reindl, an experienced hockey functionary and a talented businessman), the organization will face more active and decisive activities, reforms and qualitative changes. At least I want to believe in it.