PRAGUE, Czech Republic – Following Tuesday night’s European Hockey Club Awards, the Alliance of European Hockey Clubs held its Annual General Meeting on Wednesday morning in Prague. In all, 95 people representing 69 of the 80 clubs in 13 different countries attended.
Apart from protocol issues like election of board members and approval of budget for 2017-2018, all discussions and ensuing resolutions centred around the fundamental issue of inclusion of clubs as formal stakeholders in the International Ice Hockey Federation, patterned after football’s European Club Alliance and its recent inclusion as a full member of UEFA.
“To summarize a pretty complex issue is that the clubs who are the daily engine of European hockey want to have a direct voice into international matters which are important to them,” said EHC President Marc Lüthi, who also is the CEO of Swiss powerhouse SC Bern. “This meeting can be described as a start of a process where the goal is to reform the IIHF so it becomes a world body for hockey, not only for national associations.
“It was very encouraging that IIHF General Secretary Horst Lichtner was with us and reported about the IIHF’s own governance reform group, whose recommendations are going in the same direction as ours,” said Lüthi. “So the challenge going forward is to coordinate our parallel efforts.”
“The fact that I’m here shows that we’re following this initiative,” said Lichtner. “We are in dialogue and we will continue to meet them. I think the interests from the clubs’ side are legitimate and we have to listen to them, but we also have a legitimate reason for being the regulator of global ice hockey.”
The first step to such coordination is the addition of EHC Vice-President Håkan Loob as ad-hoc member of the IIHF Governance Reform Working Group. This group has one year from now to draft final reform recommendations which will be presented to the IIHF Congress in Copenhagen at the 2018 IIHF World Championship there.
“Hockey should strive to be one big family, and of course in families you have issues,” said Loob, the former Farjestad Karlstad and Calgary Flames legend, who recently retired from his position of Farjestad CEO but remains in charge of the club’s international affairs in addition to his duties on the EHC board. “We have different groups that all have their existing structures, but hopefully there’s some willingness to create some new structures so that we can all co-exist and benefit from each other, and when we get all of the stakeholders together like this, we can discuss these things.
“There are a lot of things to consider. You have the players, the clubs, the leagues, the national associations and international association, and all of these things are important, so they should each have some input so we can build the hockey family into something better.”
Also present at the meeting were representatives of the Champions Hockey League, for whom it is obviously important to have a good relationship with European clubs.
“It’s a brilliant relationship because most of the clubs that play in the Champions Hockey League are members here as well,” said CHL CEO Martin Baumann, alluding to the fact that all of the CHL’s founding members and 27 of the 32 clubs that will compete in the league’s 2017-18 season are EHC members. “They form the fundamental base of our league, so we have to have a good relationship with the clubs. Also, having discussions on a Europe-wide basis means that we can discuss things like scheduling with them collectively rather than one league at a time, one club at a time.”
Having representatives from so many clubs and governing bodies together in one room does have its challenges, as they all have their own interests to protect. However, the meetings serve to come to make everyone aware of everyone else’s situation, and ultimately encourage a situation that is best for all parties involved and for the sport as a whole.
Lichtner concluded: “It’s very good that we establish a good dialogue because if we don’t speak to each other then we lose each other … and we will continue.”