In the early days of the Friendship League, our primary ambition was to help bring the Special Olympics to North Korea. Hockey (at that point) served mainly as a platform to develop relationships with the North Korean sports community. Lucky for us, our strategy of using sport as an engagement tool worked quite well – hockey turned out to be an excellent tool for creating dialogue with the reclusive government in Pyongyang. After a few runs of the Pyongyang Ice Hockey League, we’d developed sufficient connections and trust locally to proceed with our efforts in the field of disability.
Our disability initiative eventually began to take on a life of its own, and no longer needed the direct support of individual Friendship League events. With that in mind, we took some time to think about what we had accomplished, and whether the Friendship League format could prove to be useful elsewhere. Our players who joined us at the Pyongyang Ice Arena were begging us to find more countries to visit, and local programs were beginning to reach out to see if we would come play them. Given that we had so much fun organizing the events, it seemed like everyone would be well-served by an enhanced and expanded Friendship League organization.
We reached out to our participants, prospective sponsors, local programs, NGOs, coaches, national federations and more in an effort to identify a niche for us to fill. Through these discussions, it became clear that the Friendship League had an important role to play in supporting the growth of hockey internationally. While each host country is different, we’ve found that our events can help most teams in the following ways:
- Exposure – our events have generated more than 100 million media impressions. For some teams, this helps raise their profile internationally and generate support for their programs. For other teams, it provides an opportunity to recruit players and sponsors locally through domestic media coverage.
- Equipment donations – we take a portion of tour fees and use the funds to bring equipment needed to grow the game locally. Many of our players also collect equipment donations and bring it with them to leave behind for local players.
- Experience – in many of the countries that we visit there’s only one or two teams playing locally. This makes it quite difficult to get substantial in-game experience. Our events provide a much-needed chance to test skills against new players and teams, and to receive coaching from skilled international players.
- Fun – in the end, the reason we all play hockey is to have fun! Our events help local players to forge genuine friendships with international hockey fans, and to play the game we all love in front of their hometown crowds!
In the lead up to all of our events, we work closely with local players and organizers to identify the most effective package of supports that we can provide. If you think there’s a way that we can help your organization, we’d love to hear your thoughts!