Gold is god to hockey hypocrites

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

London was forced to pull out of the bidding for the 2009 world junior hockey championship.

There's no clearer message to Hockey Canada that the financial focus of the bid process has put the boots to most junior centres in this country.

Those communities spend their dollars and support their teams year in and year out, good team or bad. Yet when it comes time to dole out the high-profile prime-time events, the financial requirements are so onerous that the places where junior hockey thrives become irrelevant.

London couldn't find a partner willing to share a portion of the financial risk by taking a package of games. Even though London does not have an NHL-size arena, which has become almost a requirement to be successful, it was prepared to present a bid that would guarantee a profit in the neighbourhood of $9 million and was expected to be competitive with the other major cities bidding.

Too bad London couldn't have continued in the process. It would have been nice to put pressure on Hockey Canada to walk the talk. Assailed by criticism that all they see when it comes to the world junior is dollar signs, Hockey Canada trots out the standard drivel about caring about hockey communities and money not being the only factor in deciding where the tournament goes.

If London's bid had been in the ballpark financially, it would have been interesting to see if Hockey Canada would have been willing to take a few less bucks and reward a strong junior hockey community with only a medium-sized rink.

We'll never know. What we know for certain is the warning Hockey Canada has been hearing for years -- that they are pricing themselves out of their own markets -- is true.

David Branch, president of the Canadian Hockey League and one of the members of the selection committee, indicated he wasn't privy to why London withdrew and couldn't comment until he had a chance to look at all the facts.

Hockey Canada has steadfastly refused to acknowledge that its financial requirements have made it impossible for most junior hockey cities to participate in the bid process.

That's why there is growing resentment in many communities and among some junior hockey operators about the process.

Most owners will not publicly scourge Hockey Canada because they fear alienating the Lords of the Rinks. But privately, they seethe in frustration because even though many of them lose players to the national team for an extended period of time, their communities stand little chance of benefiting from this premier event.

The feeling has become so hopeless in small and medium-sized junior markets that when London announced its intention to bid, most believed it a fool's mission. Even with its 9,090-seat John Labatt Centre, how could it compete with 18,000-seat venues in major cities throughout Canada?

But it turns out the bid was far from foolish. London spoke for all junior hockey communities who support the game and are being cut out of the process because of money. That alone was worth the effort.

Unless Hockey Canada is deaf and blind and if indeed it does care about junior hockey, it will look at London's inability to find a partner among junior hockey communities and see it as a warning about how skewed the priorities have become around this tournament.

"We recognize that this event provides outstanding benefits for a host city," writes John Winston, manager of Tourism London in his letter notifying Hockey Canada that London will be withdrawing.

"The economic and media perquisites are without peer and the community pride unparalleled. Therefore, we encourage Hockey Canada and the (International Ice Hockey Federation) to re-examine the process of bid application and selection and develop a business model that tempers financial requirements with sensitivity to smaller market limitations."

The translation is simple: Review the process, get a handle on your greed and remember where junior hockey really lives.


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