Hockey championship in doubt

  • 2002-05-23
  • Timothy Jacobs, RIGA
Latvia's World Ice Hockey Championship organizing committee has pulled out of a deal with the Swiss-based company IMS Studio 6 to construct a multipurpose arena for the championship, claiming that the company failed to submit a draft proposal on time.

Prime Minister Andris Berzins, who heads the committee, said IMS Studio 6 was supposed to submit details of its proposal by May 15.

But Goran Takac, president of IMS Studio 6, retorted that there was an agreement between his company and the organizing committee to produce such a contract by May 20.

"There was nothing in writing, but we had a gentleman's agreement that we would get them the contract by May 20, and we will," said Takac. "With such a large project, what is the difference in one day here or there?"

Takac questioned the methods that the organizing committee used to extricate themselves from the agreement that they had made with his company on April 5.

"They (the organizing committee) had a meeting in Riga on May 13 and that day they sent a fax to us demanding that we submit a contract by May 15 at 6 p.m.," Takac told The Baltic Times.. "They didn't give us any time to react. That is like me telling someone in Riga to get to my office in Switzerland by 6 p.m. today."

Berzins said that the organizing committee had decided to leave all future financial decisions, including selection of an arena builder, to the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation.

"The work of the organizing committee is being intentionally delayed and politicized, often by the spreading of untrue information, and unfortunately, this is sometimes even done by partners in the (ruling) coalition," said the prime minister.

Berzins added that he did not believe IMS Studio 6 could be brought back into the running.

But the president of the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation, Kirovs Lipmans, said he was not ruling out the Swiss company's proposal.

"Maybe it is a good project," said Lipmans.

IMS Studio 6 now plans to submit a proposal to the Latvian Hockey Federation by May 20.

"It takes two years to build an arena, a year for the architects to plan it, and about three months to get the deal finalized," said Takac. "We would have been right on schedule with this deal, but we can't wait that much longer."

The Latvian government paid the International Ice Hockey Federation, who oversees the annual event, 1 million Swiss francs ($627,700) to secure the right to host the 2006 World Ice Hockey Championship.

Withdrawing from the deal with IMS Studio 6 is an embarrassment for Berzins. He has taken pains to be associated with ice hockey in the minds of the public, appearing in ads for his Latvia's Way party which were broadcast in commercial breaks during broadcasts of the latest World Ice Hockey Championship in Sweden.

But unless Latvia is able to build both a 6,000-seat and a 12,000-seat arena by 2005, the tournament will be held elsewhere.

While acknowledging the need for a quick decision Lipmans said he would take a fresh look at all of the proposed bids to build the arena. Besides IMS Studio 6's proposal, the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation has received proposals from Metala Buvju Sistems, a company that represents four Swiss and Canadian companies, and from an unknown American investor.

But IMS Studio 6's proposal is by far the most ambitious. It envisages a $400,000 investment in what Takac calls an "omni-event" complex on Lucavsala Island in Riga's Daugava River, to which Riga City Council plans to build a bridge.

"It isn't profitable to build an arena for just one purpose," said Takac. "In order for our proposal to be profitable, we estimate that we will have to have a minimum of 200 events per year, with an average attendance of 10,000 to 15,000 people in attendance per day."The complex would include an 18,000-person arena, a hotel, a garage capable of housing 750 cars and a large shopping mall.International Ice Hockey Federation spokesman Simon Semberg said that the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation would be given an ultimatum at the international federation's next conference in September.

"The Latvians will get an ultimatum to present something very feasible by 2003," said Semberg. "If Latvia can't present any kind of contract or feasible proposal by the 2003 championship, I'm sure the IIHF will look somewhere else."

Last week, Canada, which has applied to host the tournament in 2007, said that it would welcome the opportunity to host the event in 2006 if Latvia weren't ready.