LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 06: Winter sports representative on the IOC's Executive Board, Rene Fasel (L) and Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and President of the both the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) and the Association of National Olympic Committees, Mario Vazquez Rana speak during the IOC Executive Board meetings, held at the Westminster Bridge Park Plaza on April 6, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
There's a lot of news coming out of the IIHF's Annual Congress that is worthy of notation. First off, it's time to welcome the new additions to the official list of hockey playing nations: Qatar and Jamaica. Qatar has participated in a couple of tournaments in recent years, including sending a team to the Asian Winter Games in Kazakhstan in 2011. Jamaica, however, is a relatively recent phenomenon that has gained a lot of steam amongst Americans and Canadians of Jamaican descent. Qatar has two rinks, 70 players total and a five team national league, and apparently has a hockey school that had over 100 participants, according to the IIHF. The membership is conditional on the completion of an audit by the IIHF. Jamaica, only granted associate membership, has one rink with 20 registered players, not enough to form their own league as of yet. When they are able to form a national league, full membership and participation in IIHF sanctioned tournaments will be considered (upon completion of an IIHF audit). The Jamaican bid apparently has wealthy backers, and Puck Daddy has a good feature on the Jamaican program's rapid growth during the past year. Jamaica becomes just the fourth North American and first Caribbean nation admitted into the IIHF.
The second bit is a passionate speech on the role of sport in bridging political divides by IIHF President René Fasel, speaking about the mounting pressure from the European Congress and members of the United States government to take the World Championships away from Belarus in 2014. I tend to agree with Fasel here, although I'd make sure there was a contingency plan in place for 2014 should some of the internal violence in Belarus erupt into an outright revolt. There has been a lot of political upheaval in the country and if governments are advising their citizens not to go there for their own safety, one has to wonder how safe of an environment it would be for international athletes. Fasel worded the speech as part of a praise of human rights and democracy, so one has to wonder how some member nations perceived that view at the meeting.
Thirdly is the timetable for the 2012-13 IIHF Championship season, including the IIHF U18 & U20 World Championships, Men's World Championships, Women's World Championships, Women's World U18 Championships, and Olympic Qualification tournaments for both Men and Women. The preliminary schedule is available here.
Of note, Georgia will be entering a men's team in the World Championships next year for the first time, after becoming an IIHF member in 2009.