From the Abruzzo region in Italy, all eyes on Inline Hockey turn to the Piedmont in Americas Deep South for the next instalment of senior competition. Birmingham, Alabama, USA is where the great and the good of Inline will gather during the World Games. The World Games are a growing international multi-sports competition, recognised by the International Olympic Committee and a large number of international Sporting Bodies. This includes World Skate, who will be overseeing the wheeled sports competitions this year. With Inline Hockey growing in prominence worldwide, especially following the tremendous return to competition following covid restrictions, first In Rocarasso last September for Senior Men and Women, and in Brunico just last month at the huge Masters event, Inline Hockey is running on a high!
World Skate Inline Hockey Technical Commission Chair, Andrea Fonzari remarks: “After two difficult years, the World Games represent the perfect link between the restart in Roccaraso and the return to normalcy. The top 8 performing National Teams in the world will compete over 5 days of elite competition, and in a fabulous location. World Skate have taken a whole year to prepare every single detail.”
This World Games event has become even more important for Inline Hockey, now that World Skate have introduced official ranking points for the results at these games. This means that far from just a friendly competition, these games mean real business. A good result here could change fortunes in the upcoming World Championships for Inline Hockey, finally making it to South America as has long been promised. Fonzari stated: “Having only five competition days, the format creates drama from the start, with direct access to the semi-finals following the round robin, leaving no room for error. Each of the participating are all very competitive, so every match has potential to be intense and exciting.”
This format, and the added ranking points on offer should add some extra spice to what already looks like some epic games and classic rivalries. The hosts, Team USA especially. Having missed out in Italy last year, they will be eager to spin their wheels against their perennial rivals, Canada. Team Canada will want to show up in full force, having not met their own high expectations in Italy last year, but inspired by their Legends team who won the first ever Inline Hockey gold over 50s. recently. Of course, the mighty Czech team looked unbeatable at their last outing, and if Martin Mecera and Tomas Wurtele have anything to say about it, this will remain the same. But watch out for the French, who have behind them a national system recognised as one of the best in the world right now, and like their Women’s team last year, and the Masters team last month, are always hot favourites for Gold. This makes the round robin games the hottest tickets for Inline Hockey going, snap these up while you can! Fonzari’s assessment of the matchups are most interesting:
“There are two very difficult groups: On the one hand, a European group, where current champions Czech Republic will face the fearsome Azzurri from Italy. The solid Swiss, and unpredictable Latvians with everything to play for. In the "American-group", with the USA missing from Italy last year, will surely entertain over three heart-stopping challenges with their Canadian neighbours, the emerging Colombians, and the tour de force of the French. All intense and competative matches are expected without any doubt.”
And where are the senior women at this competition? Fonzari is aware of this, and is addressing it: “There are only three World Skate disciplines lucky enough to be represented at TWG. World Skate are well aware of this, and have already discussed internally a proposal to present to the IWGA to extend participation to women in the future”.
Inline Hockey is one of the most popular events at these games, which features a range of sports across numerous disciplines. So how does this Inline Hockey competition stand out? Fonzari answers: “Inline and Roller Sports in general are certainly among the most exciting sports at the World Games. It is up to us to do our best to attract and entertain the very large attendance at this event. I am confident that our athletes will be able to entertain and excite the public in the very best way, to showcase our sport. The qualification criteria guarantees the presence of the best eight federations in the world. This is already an important calling card to bring out the beauty of our sport.”
Of course following this competition, World Skate are holding their games in Buenos Aires, Argentina, starting this October. So much can be determined by the performances here in these games. Fonzari is looking forward, with one eye to the World Skate games coming up. He states:
“I expect record participation in the first edition of the Word Skate Games (previously Roller Games). The Argentinean setting is preparing in the best possible way to welcome us all and to offer us the highest quality games we have ever yet seen. We will finally return to competition with the Junior Men's and Women's Championships, categories that have unfortunately paid the highest price for two difficult years”
Fonzari is looking forward to the challenge of organising this next World Championships. He states: “The most complicated challenge certainly stems from the timing of these games for Inline Hockey. Of course, we recognise that World Skate unites 12 different world sporting disciplines, so we must incorporate the needs of all of them. We are the only International Sporting Body in the world with the potential to organise our own ‘Mini Olympics'. We must be proud of this and exploit this enormous potential for overall development.”
Inline Hockey is growing worldwide, and with ever more exposure from podcasters, growth in competition quality and scale, and improvement in the professional approach, while retaining that unique and valuable grassroots appeal, the game is on the rise. Come and join the movement and see for yourself in Birmingham, Alabama. Details on how to see the games live or online are all available on the WS Inline Hockey page. We hope to see you there!
Words by Pete Wirt
Photo: Courtesy of IWGA