Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Game fix? IIHF to monitor 'tank' move by Sweden
By Scott Burnside
TORINO, Italy -- The International Ice Hockey Federation will be monitoring Tuesday's game between Sweden and Slovakia after Swedish coach Bengt Ake Gustafsson suggested he wouldn't mind if his team lost or tied its last preliminary-round game so they could face Switzerland and avoid Canada or the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals Wednesday.
"This is the biggest stage that hockey has. We are being watched by a potential 3.2 billion people in 200 countries," IIHF spokesman Szymon Szemberg said Tuesday. We don't want game previews to be about tanked games. This is not our objective. So this is definitely not the exposure we want."
IIHF president Rene Fasel was not pleased with Gustafsson's comments, made after the team's workout Monday, and how they might reflect on one of the Olympics' showcase sports.
"He's disappointed. He felt that those comments were out of place. He feels that they could potentially harm the integrity of the tournament," Szemberg said.
Switzerland is the surprise team of the men's tournament. They upset Canada and the Czech Republic in preliminary-round play and tied Italy on Tuesday to secure the second seed in Pool A. Still, the team has only three NHLers on its roster (two are goalies) and is seen as the weakest team in the eight-team playoff field. As a result, there has been much debate about how teams in Pool B might adjust their play in the final preliminary-round games Tuesday to try and gain that matchup in Wednesday's quarterfinals. The third-place team in Pool B will play the Swiss and the Swedes began the day in third, tied in points with Russia and two points behind undefeated Slovakia.
"Of course Switzerland is an easier opponent," Gustafsson told Swedish reporters Monday. "A team like Canada might be easier to beat in the quarterfinal than in the final. But on the other hand, it's plague or cholera. We'll have to handle this in a professional way to make the right decision.
"We're discussing inside the group what is good and not good. It's a sticky situation," Gustafsson added. "Of course that's the question. If you're going to win, or play a good game that is 0-0. Those are the thoughts going through my head but it's difficult.
"Switzerland might be an easier team than others," he went on. "It's going to be difficult. We'll try to handle this in the most professional way as possible."
Told of the comments, Swiss coach Ralph Krueger said he figures it will be good motivation for his players on Wednesday.
"In general terms, I expect all teams to show respect in all situations as we do in ours," Krueger said. "I'm sure it won't hurt in terms of having my players ready for [Wednesday]."
Although the IIHF has no protocol in place to discipline teams that purposely tank games, they will be closely monitoring the Sweden/Slovakia game set for 8:05 p.m. in Torino.
Each game has a game supervisor, in this case the Finnish member of the IIHF directorate, Kalervo Kummola, who will monitor the Swedish game and then report back to the directorate late Tuesday evening.
If there is reason to suggest the Swedes didn't compete to the best of their ability, Szemberg said the directorate, the governing body of the IIHF, could impose a fine or other penalty.
"There is definitely room for them to set a precedent," Szemberg.
The question will be how to determine if the Swedes are doing just enough not to win. One reporter suggested a good clue would be if they start Kim Martin, the Swedish women's goaltender. Or if Peter Forsberg plays goal or defense.
"You know as well as I know, it's extremely difficult to pinpoint [whether a team has lost intentionally]. How can you tell?" Szemberg said.
Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.