IIHF president optimistic about Hockey Canada’s new board despite scandal’s ‘damage’

Luc Tardif, IIHF President, answers questions from reporters during a press conference at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship. (Darren Calabrese/AP)

HALIFAX – IIHF president Luc Tardif said Thursday “there has been damage” to the game of hockey because of the Hockey Canada scandal. 

In a media conference called to discuss the success of the current world juniors tournament being held here and in Moncton, N.B., Tardif also said the IIHF “is not involved” with the next World Cup of Hockey and has set a “spring 2024” deadline for the NHL to commit to the 2026 Winter Games, to be held in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. 

But Hockey Canada – which settled a lawsuit by a woman alleging a group sexual assault by members of the 2018 Canadian world junior team, has been called to Parliament four times to answer to whether the settlement money came from public funds, has had those funds frozen, and has seen the departure of its CEO and entire board of directors, all in less than a year – was the main topic for journalists. 

“First, I think the impact here in Canada is something else than in the international world,” Tardif said. He added that the world of politics and business are also seeing these changes and incidents, so it’s not unique to hockey. “So, that means, for sure, when something happened like that, there was a lot of damage.”

This year’s tournament, which was supposed to be played in Russia but was moved after that country attacked Ukraine, has played here to full arenas and enthusiastic crowds. Tardif said a decision on whether or not to reinstate Russia and Belarus would be made at the IIHF Congress in May.

“When you see the tournament and the crowd and the people you say, ‘Oh, there’s nothing changed,’” Tardif said. “That’s not true, something changed.” 

For the health of the game, Tardif said the effect of the Hockey Canada situation is “not good,” adding “how do you measure the effect? I don’t know.” 

After meeting with Hockey Canada’s new board of directors, which was elected Dec. 17 and is chaired by former Ontario judge Hugh Fraser, Tardif said he was optimistic in the new direction. 

“There is damage, but now we have to try to see how we can work (and) correct,” he said. “And I think the new board that I met, those people who were named are perfectly able to address the situation, with our help.” 

When asked about the IIHF’s investigation that was opened at the end of July, Tardif said, for the IIHF, “the most important thing is what the member – so, that means Hockey Canada – did properly or not, and it will come also after the investigation.” 

He added the IIHF began instituting “integrity programs” that cover sexual assault for players at the world juniors tournament in August. The programs also cover doping and match-fixing.

Tardif also said the IIHF wants to get ahead of getting a commitment from the NHL about participation in the next Winter Olympics, hence the spring 2024 deadline. 

“It gives us two years to prepare properly (for) this competition,” Tardif said about arranging for the NHL players to play in the Olympics, citing the “nightmare” of Beijing, from which the NHL and NHLPA withdrew a month previous for COVID safety. 

The NHL in the past has said it wants the IIHF to handle insurance, travel arrangements, etc., for NHL players at the Olympics. On Thursday, Tardif said “we are not travel agents,” seemingly a reference to the NHL’s condition. He also added that the NHL players “need to have the same rules” as the other Olympic athletes. 

“But I’m optimistic,” Tardif said, citing openness by the NHL and the NHLPA. “But, I mean, everybody has to (make) an effort to be there. … I used to say, if we discuss directly with the players, with the players that want to go, we can find a way. But it’s more complicated than that.” 

As for the NHL-NHLPA-run World Cup, which has been pushed back from 2024 because of the war in Russia, Tardif said talks are ongoing. 

“At the moment, we’re not involved in the World Cup,” he said. “We’ve had discussions with with NHL, NHLPA, and for us that’s a big problem (holding the tournament) in February because they will need European players, it will be in Europe, and we’ve got the World Championship three months after. So, we’re discussing; that’s a big problem for us.” 

Tardif added that the IIHF prefers the World Cup be held in the August-October time frame. The last World Cup of Hockey was held in late September 2016. 

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