The Hockey News - Money & Power
1 RENE FASEL
Hockey’s peacemaker has one more goal: Get NHLers back in the Olympics
AGE: 68 | TOP 100: 10 IIHF PRESIDENT
RENE FASEL FLOATS into The Hockey News lobby, suit tailored to perfection, showing no signs of the jet lag plaguing him after a long flight across the Atlantic.
He’s Swiss-born but speaks English with elegant diction. He carries himself like a distinguished diplomat and, in a hockey context, that’s exactly what he’s been for more than two decades.
As president of the IIHF since 1994, Fasel has been tasked with herding all the different national hockey federations, from Hockey Canada to USA Hockey to the Ice Hockey Federation of Russia, and working with them to put the world’s best international tournaments on ice. With help from his negotiation, NHLers joined the Olympics starting in 1998 and produced some of the best, most memorable hockey in the sport’s history through 2014. The World Junior Championship’s popularity has also grown astronomically during Fasel’s tenure. Yes, the surge can be attributed to Canada’s passion for the tournament and TSN’s TV coverage, but Fasel was the No. 1 proponent for giving Canada the world juniors roughly every two years, and that has been a boon for the event, even if last year’s attendance sagged a bit.
Fasel’s position makes him a peacemaker as well, and sometimes it’s a thankless gig. He can’t hide his disappointment that he couldn’t get the NHL and International Olympic Committee to strike a deal and send the world’s top pro players to the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. The NHL and IOC refused to pay insurance costs for NHLers to attend, forcing Fasel’s IIHF to step in and pay it in an effort to save the day, but that still couldn’t get the NHL to the Olympics. Next time around, Fasel has stated, the IIHF can’t afford to cover the insurance again, so it’ll be up to the NHL, the NHL Players’ Association and the IOC.
Fasel has stated it’s his mission to get a true beston-best men’s tournament back on the ice for the 2022
Beijing Olympics, and he’s not afraid to point a finger at NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “It’s not only about money, you know?” Fasel said. “This is actually the biggest mistake some people do in professional sport. If you have a turnover of $5 billion like the NHL has today, the job of Gary is to take care of the business going on. People are investing a lot of money in arenas and other ventures. But if the NHL is here, and we have the IIHF on the other side, doing its job, bringing young girls and boys to the game of hockey and the fans…USA Hockey, Hockey Canada, and the European federations like Sweden, Czech or Russia or the Finns, they take these young players and they bring them to the league where they make the business.”
To deconstruct Fasel’s statement: international tournaments often attract fans and athletes to the sport in the first place, and many of those fans grow up to become players and are thus eventually responsible for growing the NHL’s business. Fasel speaks openly about the idea that, on his side of the world, sport is about fun and passion before it’s about business. It’s not surprising to hear that from a man who joined the workforce as a practising dentist and first held the position of IIHF president as a side hobby. Running the IIHF is a
full-time pursuit now, but it began as a passion project.
Fasel won’t seek re-election when his term expires in 2020. He believes it’s time for someone with new ideas to get a chance. But he can’t walk away from hockey altogether – not when he has unfinished business trying to bring NHLers back to the Olympics, even if he does so in more of an advisory role this time. “The decision not to pay and cover the technical costs made by Thomas Bach in the IOC gave Gary the opportunity to say no,” Fasel said. “So I really hope for 2022 that we find on one side the IOC is ready to pay the technical costs, and that Gary and Don (Fehr, executive director of the NHLPA) actually make a deal so that they will participate in the Games, especially for the game of hockey and the fans.”