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This tournament will leave a lasting impression, says ISBHF president George Gortsos

10. 6. 2017 | Jakub Borovskż
For the first 10 days in June, Pardubice was the centre of the ball hockey universe, and earned the praise of George Gortsos, president of the International Street & Ball Hockey Federation. As the tournament winds down, he shared his thoughts on this particular World Championship, and on the current and future state of the sport in general.

First of all, what are your general thoughts about this World Championship in Pardubice?
Iím thrilled. Iím thrilled for the players, for the organizing committee, for the Czech Ball Hockey Federation and most of all for the game. I think this tournament will leave a lasting impression on all the players here and people who watched on TV. We will not know the full effect of what weíve done here for years. There could be a young Czech girl or boy who saw it on TV and decides to play ball hockey, or someone from anywhere around the world who watched online - I think weíre close to half a million web hits on Youtube. So, Iím thrilled.

Was this the best Ball Hockey World Championship ever? I know thatís an easy question to ask, but hard to compare one tournament with another.
Youíre talking to someone whoís been there since the beginning, first as a player and then as a coach. I think this one will rank right up there at the top of the memory scale for all of us. Not only that, but when you look at the region of Pardubice and the young kids playing ball hockey in the small rink in the fan zone, the beautiful city to see when players go for a walk, this one is going to rank right up there for all of us near the top.

What about the atmosphere and the attendance?
I donít think Iíve seen an atmosphere like this ever, and Iíd have to thank the Czech passion for hockey. I was talking to Petr Briza from the IIHF and he said, ďGeorge, this is a great atmosphere,Ē and I said, ďYes it is.Ē And probably weíve had the highest attended tournament and some of the highest attended games. Weíve had our highest attendance for a womenís game, our highest exposure by showing the games on Czech television, our highest web hits watching the games online. So for me as a president, and Iím just part of this big family of all these nations who work so hard, Iím just happy for all of them and the game.

An important factor in atmosphere and attendance are the performance of the host nation. What do you think about how the Czech menís and womenís teams played?
Iíll start with the Czech women and the coach. As soon as I saw them, I knew they were another step above last time. Thatís a credit to the coach and the players, who persevered against some great teams and I think the Czech people should be proud of them, as they should with Mr. Kadlecís menís team - they worked hard and were great ambassadors for the Czech ball hockey nation. You have to understand that around the world, Czech ball hockey is very well respected, and all the Czech people who watch them should be very happy with what they do.

We all remember the game between the Czech Republic and United States - a great game, but there were some problems with the officiating. The next day we had an announcement from the committee about the introduction of video replay. Why the sudden change in the middle of a tournament?
You know, weíre a great amateur sports organization, but we donít always have video review. We werenít ready to understand how the technology could help us, but when we looked at it, I think we used it six or seven times and it helped settle all the teams down. I donít know if weíll always have an arena like Tipsport, or an organizing committee that has the capability to use the technology that we have here, but if we have that, we should use it. So we made the right choice, I think.

If you can think of one thing about this World Championship that youíll remember in in 20 years, what will it be?
Iím going to tell you the honest truth. Itís the people working behind the scenes - the unknown people of the tournament who do all the little things that really add to the exposure of the players and make everything run smoothly. What Iíll remember as well is the smiles on the faces of all the players as they walk around. Theyíll never forget the Czech Republic, and I will never forget the people who I worked with and saw how hard they worked.

The next World Championship will be in Slovakia. Do you think it can live up to the standard set by Pardubice.
Well, Zug was amazing event and the organizers from Pardubice were there, and I know the Slovaks were here and observed everything that went on, and theyíre proud, and Iím sure theyíll pick a place where they can try to meet that standard. I think a lot of players from around the world love coming to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Switzerland for the passion for hockey thatís here, and you should be proud of that. So I expect the Slovaks to rise up to the level and be the proud hockey nation that they are and put on a good show.

You talk about the level of ball hockey in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Switzerland. Do you see other countries in Europe reaching that level at some point?
When I think about it Ö Finland is building a new federation and theyíre much improved, France is building a federation from the ground up, so this is good for Europe, and I know the Czechs, the Slovaks and the Swiss will embrace that and play games against them. As far as a level that the Czech Ball Hockey Federation operates at, thatís a high standard, and Iím not always convinced we can reach that level everywhere, but we can try. I thank the Czech ball hockey community for reaching that level, because it inspires us to try to reach that in other places.

Even beyond Europe, we see teams here from India, Lebanon, Haiti Ö not traditional ice hockey countries. What other countries like this do you see coming?
Weíve got New Zealand coming and Africa coming soon. For me, though, I think Iíd really like to see some of the European teams step up, like Austria and Germany, to join that platform we have with the Czechs, Slovaks and Swiss. Another team thatís really improved is the United Kingdom.

And maybe some of them can even start competing for medals?
The silver medal the American girls won today was the first theyíve ever won in our competition, and thatís a good thing. No offence to Canada, Slovakia or the Czech Republic - those three nations have dominated ball hockey since I was a player in 1996 - but I would love to see the day when another country wins, because then it will only add to the interest, and I believe that day is coming. Switzerland is getting there, the United Kingdom is getting there, maybe soon weíll have Russia with us, or somebody else.

Youíre very optimistic about the future of the sport, it seems.
We have to be optimistic. Iíve been in this game at the highest level and has been lucky enough to win five world championships - one as a player and four as a coach. The reason why Iím still involved is Iím passionate about seeing young and women play in these events so they can grow as people.

After a long tournament, you must be very tired now.
Iím tired, but I have to think of all the people who have worked 12 to 14 hours per day to make everything run as smooth as possible. I feel great right now as this wonderful celebration comes to an end and maybe Iíll relax with a nice meal and a beer, and I think Pardubiceís going to be an active city tonight with a lot going on.

And what do you think of Czech beer?
I havenít had a chance to drink much beer because weíve been very serious and had a lot of work to do. Iíve drank a lot of lemon water, but maybe weíll change that a bit tonight. (laughing)