|Dr René Fasel- President, International Ice Hockey Federation|
|Profile of the week|
Friday, 14 December 2012 16:38
Dr René Fasel is the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation.
The dentist, who was born on 6 February 1950 in Fribourg, Switzerland, played ice hockey, starting as an amateur player advancing to international referee and then to an official in various functions. René Fasel played for HC Fribourg-Gottéron in the amateur division and in the National League B.
In 1985, he became president of the Swiss Association and in 1986 he joined the leadership of the world federation after his election as IIHF Council member. René Fasel was the chairman in both the Referee and the Marketing Committees of the IIHF.
When René Fasel became Dr Sabetzki's successor as IIHF President, the world federation steeped in tradition entered a new era. The new President was anxious to establish a closer contact with the professional organizations in North America and consolidated the relations between IIHF and NHL.
In June 1995, René Fasel was appointed, as the very first ice hockey representative, to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Consequently, the IIHF President raised the stature of the ice hockey sport enormously. The integration of In-Line Hockey into the IIHF and the foundation of the European Hockey League were some long-sighted projects that were successfully realized during Fasel's presidency.
Fasel has been serving as the president of the Association of the International Olympic Winter Sports Federations (AIOWF) since 2002. He was also named the chairman of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics Co-ordination Committee.
Most recently, Fasel was elected onto the IOC Executive Board for a four-year term during the 120th IOC Session in Beijing on 7th August, 2008, and for a second four-year term at the 124th IOC Session in London on August 26th, 2012, as the winter sports representative.
In 2004, Fasel was given the Legion of Honour Award which is the highest award given by the French Republic for outstanding service to France, regardless of the nationality of the recipient. Also in 2004, Fasel was awarded the Ukrainian VIZHIBU prize for significant contribution to the development and popularisation of ice hockey in the world. In 2008, Fasel received the Special Award of the Swiss Association at their Centennial Gala, which honours personalities for extraordinary contributions to Swiss ice hockey.
How much has international Ice Hockey changed since the days when you were a referee?
On the ice, the players have become bigger, faster, stronger. The game has become even more entertaining for fans in the arena and for the television audience.
Off the ice, I am glad to say that our sport has been growing continuously. Be it on the grassroots or on the professional level. Not only our top event, the Senior Men’s World Championship has become more popular around the world, also the IIHF World Junior Championship has had record-breaking attendance figures over the last years. Let alone the recent Olympic Games in Vancouver, which was an unparalleled success in terms of attendance, TV figures and positive worldwide publicity for our game.
Does being involved in the practical side of the sport help you in sports’ administration?
Absolutely, no question about that. My involvement with ice hockey started when I was an athlete myself and from there, it steadily evolved (from a referee, to Committee Chairman, to President of a National Federation, etc). I feel very lucky to have seen the game from all possible perspectives. In my day-to-day job, I often have to be a mediator between parties. My goal is always to bring people together, so we can double our efforts to grow ice hockey globally. And if you can put yourself in other people’s shoes and understand their reasoning, it really helps.
How does being President of the Swiss Ice Hockey Association differ to your current role?
Many people will tell you that I have remained very Swiss in a way. I try to bring people together, am a sports politician. But the difference now is that I have to take off the Swiss hat and always think and speak for all of our members instead of just for Switzerland. I admit, in the beginning this took lots of discipline, but now in my 6th tenure as IIHF President it’s an automatic reaction.
How much has the IIHF progressed during your time as President?
I think we have made big strides. We have moved our office from Austria to Switzerland and we grew from a small 2-person federation to 30+ staff. We have an incredible group of people who are passionate about ice hockey and who work literally night and day for the development of our game.
But we have also grown in membership (currently 70 countries), in marketing revenues, in attendance/TV figures and I think we have made many on-ice (rule) changes that made our game more attractive. One of the biggest developments since I started is the growth of the women’s game. For a long time the fastest growing sport in the world (!), female hockey players have participated in four Olympics already and we have now more than 36 nations sending women’s teams to IIHF events.
Congratulations on your re-election in September, what is your remit/goal for the next four years?
Thank you! I am excited about four more years and we have set ambitious goals. For me, this will be my last tenure so I can and will be very pushy!
A few of the things I want to do are:
• Keep evaluating our World Championship system and make change when necessary
• Finding the right governance structure that includes not only our member associations, but also gives a voice to leagues and clubs
• Cooperate with the Kontinental Hockey League to find the right strategies for European hockey
• Activate Asia’s and especially China’s potential as a far east hockey powerhouse
• Continued collaboration with the NHL on various issues such as Olympic participation, player transfers, player safety
• Establishment of a player safety working group together with the NHL and NHLPA
• Fight against doping and match-fixing to protect the integrity of ice hockey
What changes would you like to push through in the administration of Ice Hockey around the world?
As I just mentioned, I have many goals for this new term. But one thing that is really important to me is player safety. We have to make sure the game is played fair, that it is safe. Many perceive hockey is a violent sport, which it clearly is not. I want to change those people’s perception, so they see hockey as the fun and educational sport it really is. Mothers should not hesitate to send their kids to hockey practice.
We have implemented a player safety working group, which will be a combined effort between the IIHF, the NHL and the NHLPA and will look at various ways – be it changes to rules, equipment or age limits – to improve this aspect of the game.
What achievements would you say have been most important during your tenure as President of the IIHF?
I am proud of all the work we did over the last 20 years. But I would single out two things, which were very impactful. First, the NHL’s participation in the Olympic Winter Games in 1998. I admit, it was not easy to bring the parties together and make the NHL halt their season for the first time. But it took our game to the next level and transformed its public perception. And the NHL has been part of the Games ever since. Secondly, I am proud of the current World Championship 16-team format. I think it’s been working well and more countries have had a chance to participate in our top event which gave their national development programs a boost.