By George Da Silva @NTOfIceHockey (www.nationalteamsoficehockey.com)
Keith Fong has been organizing ice hockey tournaments and events for the past 19 years. Based in Hong Kong, Fong has worked to build the game up in Asia, the continent with the largest-growing hockey base in the world.
Recently. he has brought coaches from How to Hockey to Asia to teach and develop player skills. His Twitter account, @Fonger96, shares photos of the sport on the powerful continent and shows his love for the game.
We recently talked to him to get his thoughts on hockey development and where he hopes to see hockey in Asia going forward.
GDS) Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in Ice Hockey?
KF) Originally from Vancouver, Canada and being Canadian, hockey was a religion. I started watching hockey at the age of seven and it was the year when the Vancouver Canucks went to the Stanley Cup Finals. As I grew up, I booked the ice for my group or friends and organized weekly games. During the summer months, I would organize an inline hockey league
as the ice was taken out during off season.
GDS) When did you start organizing Ice hockey tournaments and what was the motive behind it?
KF) I moved to Hong Kong in 1999 and the reason for my move was to join a company that was organizing the World Ice Hockey 5’s tournament. The tournament invited Gordie Howe as the special guest of honor. It was an eye-opener for me as the tournament hosted 44 teams around the world. I decided to stay in Hong Kong to continue to develop the game locally and in Asia.
Our company assisted with the organization of the tournaments in Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia. We also organized the first ever exhibition game in Malaysia in 2000, followed by a tournament in 2001 and continued for several years. The motivation was to bring hockey to cities where the game was not developed yet. It was also fun to play in new cities around Asia.
GDS) What other Asian countries have had this event and will you be in more countries in the future?
KF) We’ve organized events in several Asian countries including China, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and have been in cities such as Macau and Hong Kong. We were in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam in May to play in the first game there. For sure, we would love to be in more countries especially, if they have an ice rink.
GDS) At your tournaments you always have new initiatives and programs. Can you talk about them?
KF) I love to go to other tournaments and watch as many live professional games as possible, whether it is the NHL or even the KHL. The reason is to see the ‘show’ and observe every detail how it is organized. From this, I can see what works or does not work and apply back to my tournaments. It may not be necessary from sporting events as it could be other events.
For example, in the recent Tropical Freeze tournament that we organized in Bangkok, we added a photo booth. Many weddings and graduation ceremonies have this for the purpose of having additional photos to remember and look back at the wonderful memories.
Therefore, it was an instant success when the parents saw the photo booth and took pictures with their kids in their hockey gear. I would love to work with hockey companies or individuals that can bring value to our tournaments.
We are always looking for new initiatives to create a fun and exciting atmosphere. It is like hosting a party – you want to make sure your guests have an awesome time!
GDS) How do Asian players benefit from your tournaments?
KF) Asian players benefit in many ways. To name a few: to learn by watching the caliber from players in the higher division; to play against or on the same team as the foreign players, would help improve their game; the top Asian players would have an instant fan club as there are many autograph seekers at our tournaments.
GDS) With the back-to-back Winter Olympics in Asia, ice hockey popularity is at an all- time high but will it die after the Olympics are over, or do think it will continue to grow?
KF) It will definitely continue to grow. There is so much potential in Asia with so many untapped markets or markets in its infancy. The Winter Olympics will definitely add more awareness to ice sports, particularly ice hockey.
It also helps that we are in the digital age where games are much easier to access. Before social me- dia or high-speed internet, NHL games would broadcast once a week if lucky.
However, the IOC needs to work out something with the NHL to get the players back to his event. I understand the economics and business behind this but as a fan, would love to see Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby at the Olympics.
GDS) Do you think NHL pre-season games in China helps promote the game in Asia?
KF) For sure. It has created so much buzz around Asia, more specifically in China. The neighboring countries are excited to be able to have an opportunity to see a live NHL game without having to fly to North America. It also helps create awareness and educate the local fans about the game.
GDS) In your opinion what has been some of the biggest changes in Asian Ice Hockey over the last 19 years?
Some of the biggest changes for Asian Ice Hockey include:
1. Countries such as Malaysia, Philippines, United Arab Emirates and Indonesia are now members of the International Ice Hockey Federation.
2. UAE, Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei are in the World Championships whereas the other South East Asian cities are in the Challenge Cup of Asia.
3. Ice Rinks – Hong Kong, Malaysia and Philippines only had small rinks which allowed 4 on 4 play. Hong Kong now has an NHL size rink whereas Malaysia and Philippines both have an Olympic size rink.
4. China – the world’s largest untapped market for hockey. You have the population, available land for ice rinks and the backing of the China Central Government to promote ice sports with the 2022 Winter Olympics just around the corner. Before, China was not on anyone’s radar for hockey and now there is quite a lot of interest.