Petr Bříza, right, counts 23 years as a professional player among his ice hockey experience ©Getty Images

International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Presidential candidate Petr Bříza has emphasised the importance of the word "we" to his bid, and says the election campaign has been a great opportunity to discuss the future direction of the sport.

Bříza became an Executive Committee member of the Czech Ice Hockey Association (CIHA) in 2008 and later its vice-president.

The 56-year-old played as a professional for 23 years too, appearing at three Winter Olympic Games, and believes his experience has led him to the moment where he is ready to become IIHF President.

"I dreamed as a kid to play and then I was lucky to fulfil my dream as a player in professional hockey, and then later on I worked for the club [holding several senior positions with Sparta Prague], and then for the CIHA," Bříza reflected in an interview with insidethegames.

"I'm really grateful for this pyramid of experience, because these experiences gave me new understanding about the issues, and you start to understand it in the larger perspective.

"I’ve been representing the CIHA at international level since 2008, and being on the Committee, with issues around the transfer agreement of European players and the relationship between leagues, I’ve learned really great knowledge over the years.

"And then later on in the leadership of the CIHA, I became a vice-president, which is very similar in any federation as you have to set up a budget and programmes and really execute it well.

"The CIHA was in not such a good shape in 2008, and I remember how we started to build up programmes again, and how we needed to be really patient and persistent in those programmes.

"It gave me a great background for many of the negotiation and diplomatic skills you need, especially in relationships with other ice hockey federations as well as the IIHF.

"I was part of hosting the most successful World Championship in 2015 in Prague with record audience figures.

"Since 2019, I’ve actually been taking care of about 14 regions with very small clubs, so for me, I feel it is a fantastic opportunity to be back to the roots, because it’s the same in football, rugby or any team sport, the smallest clubs are actually the cells of our sport."

The Czech Ice Hockey Association, with whom Petr Bříza has served since 2008, hosted the IIHF Men's World Championship in 2015 ©Getty Images
The Czech Ice Hockey Association, with whom Petr Bříza has served since 2008, hosted the IIHF Men's World Championship in 2015 ©Getty Images

Teamwork and building a united IIHF are fundamental to Bříza’s campaign, as he explained.

"The essence of my campaign is the word 'we', understanding what 'we' means," he affirmed.

"The right leader bears responsibility, but he must have the ability to bring everyone into 'we', because ice hockey is a team sport and working as a 'we' gives you the strong team you need to achieve your goals.

"In any team everyone has to be satisfied, has to be motivated to achieve together with the team those goals."

Bříza revealed through a manifesto five of his top priorities were he to become IIHF President, and he explained in some detail the reasoning behind them.

His first pillar is ensuring the strength of the IIHF to ensure the stability of ice hockey.

"The world around us is very dynamic, we are competing with other sports, the landscape outside and inside of ice hockey is changing," Bříza said.

"We have key relationships, starting with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and for me I was fortunate to participate in three Olympic Games, and the idea of Olympism is one of the strongest.

"I am totally excited about the Olympic Games, and I think they play a fantastic role in our human society, and ice hockey has to seek formal representation in the IOC structure for the future, because they feel we are a very important part of the Games, having the full schedule from the first day until the last day in the women’s and the men’s tournament.

"And of course we have relationships with the National Hockey League (NHL), the NHL Players' Association and European Leagues, and we have to create a new relationship for the future for at least five years.

"We also need a strong leadership because there are more than 80 federations of very different sizes and levels, so all of those federations have different needs.

"We must start that internal discussion about how to be most effective as an international federation."

The IIHF Presidential candidate is also seeking to provide a long-term vision for the sport’s development as part of his campaign.

"I was really happy to lead a [IIHF Youth and Junior] Development Committee during the last five years with great colleagues who believe in revenue growth," Bříza commented.

A deal was today agree for NHL players to feature at the next Winter Olympics ©Getty Images
A deal was today agree for NHL players to feature at the next Winter Olympics ©Getty Images

"We have to set up development as a priority and a sustainable part of our programme, and not only for five years.

"For me, the development is ongoing, and to achieve those goals, you need a long-term strategy.

"We are fortunate that our key marketing contract with Infront is for 10 years, so we have to focus on developing ourselves during these years.

"So my focus is on long-term, but moving along we have to control our short-term planning too.

"I believe we must have a schedule of the development activities for the upcoming season every year, and then you can analyse and update it for the next season.

"We have to build ice rinks because we are limited with each ice rink in terms of the number of players, so to grow and develop hockey we have to focus on supporting Infrastructure and activities.

Innovation is another key characteristic which Bříza believes he can provide as IIHF President, including creating a new IIHF broadcasting platform and promoting different forms of the sport.

"I really like creativity," he remarked.

"I think this brings up a lot of great new things and new formats in ice hockey, for example three-on-three.

"This follows other sports like rugby, and helps to promote ice hockey especially in the younger categories and gives our smaller nations the possibility to compete and develop the players more effectively."

Other key pillars aspects of Bříza’s campaign include increasing ice hockey’s international appeal, making use of the IIHF membership’s knowledge and professionalism, and sharing regional ownership to build global development.

The election will see the IIHF choose its first new President since 1994, with the long-serving René Fasel set to step down.

René Fasel would have stepped down as IIHF President sooner, were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic delaying the election ©Getty Images
René Fasel would have stepped down as IIHF President sooner, were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic delaying the election ©Getty Images

Bříza believes the campaign has offered a chance for the international governing body to discuss its future direction.

"The campaign is an unbelievable opportunity to start a very intensive discussion, that maybe we didn’t have for years," he admitted.

"And speaking with each federation separately gives you feedback.

"They are able to identify their needs, and what the new Council should definitely do is memorise all those key points from the programme and all those inputs.

"And based on this, you can very easily make the key strategy for the next year.

"Five candidates is a great advantage for us.

"We have great knowledge among our membership, and the feedback so far has been fantastic."

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered forms of communication and campaigning for the election campaign, but Bříza says restrictions on travel have not hampered his efforts to discuss plans with different parties.

"What is really great is speaking with people at virtual conferences, you can actually feel even through the computer how you understand each other," he said.

"Most of the discussions are of course virtual, and it’s just fine because for me the most important thing is the content, not the meeting, and I’m really satisfied with the feedback."

All five Presidential candidates are members of the IIHF Council, and for Bříza, the opportunity to share ideas about how the organisation can move forward has been one he has relished taking part in.

"I think we all received positive feedback," he claimed.

"We don’t compete against each other, I see that we compete for the future of the IHF.

"The feedback is actually that we all want to grow the game of hockey, and we all feel that this campaign is a great opportunity and it’s just fantastic just to be a part and help set up the strategy for the next year."

Germany’s Franz Reindl, Denmark’s Henrik Bach Nielsen, Belarus’ Sergej Gontcharov and France’s Luc Tardif are also standing for the Presidency, and the winner will be decided at the IIHF Semi-Annual Congress in Saint Petersburg on September 25.