Crossing borders
by Henrik Manninen|10 MAR 2023
Slovenia and Croatia are among the countries involved in the Women’s Hockey Partnership for Progress (WHPP) project.
photo: Drago Cvetanovic
With a more prosperous future being its long-term aim, the Women’s Hockey Partnership for Progress (WHPP) is launched in Europe´s Danube region to help provide equal opportunities to young girls playing ice hockey.

WHPP is a joint effort where the national ice hockey associations of Austria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia have come together with the Sport Institute of Finland, the University of Ljubljana, the Ice Hockey Federation of North Macedonia and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). The project lead coordinator being the Ice Hockey Federation of Slovenia.

Launched at the start of this year, it is the only current ice hockey program co-funded by Eramus+, a program of the European Union (EU) for education, training, youth and sport. Similar projects have in the past taken place in the region, but WHPP stands out as a historical first project co-funded by Eramus+ focusing solely on women’s hockey.

“Funds for women’s hockey, especially in this part of Europe, are quite difficult to obtain. The possibilities offered by this grant from the EU are quite exciting. I see it as a way to improve the women’s game at all levels – players, coaches, managers etcetera. All this is in a region with a lot of potential and space for progress. In other regions with a higher level of the women’s game, the investment would have to be higher to achieve some progress. Here in the Danube region, every Euro is worth double,” said Dejan Kontrec of the Ice Hockey Federation of Slovenia.

With a total funding of €250,000, the project will run until the end of 2025. Activities are ranging from tournaments, seminars and workshops to educational materials taking place among the participating countries. The project also targets supporting staff such as coaches, team leaders, management and volunteers as the project aims to achieve long-term and sustainable progress in women’s hockey in the region.

Proceedings officially got underway on 27 January 2023 in Ljubljana. A three-day consortium meeting kicked off the WHPP project with all the participating partners coming together. The Ice Hockey Federation of Bosnia & Herzegovina was represented by Majda Hanic.

“I am very happy that Bosnia and Herzegovina is part of the WHPP project, since it broadens horizons and networks among female players, coaches and game officials. Apart from official games and meeting participants from Austria, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia, I’m looking forward to participating in the educational part of the project, especially the part for game officials. So far, this will be our first experience participating in a women-oriented project. We appreciate the exchange of knowledge and experience from qualified lecturers, as well as the associated partners from the Danube region,” she said.

25-year-old Hanic is part of a trailblazing first generation of female players in the country’s capital Sarajevo. Initially starting to play with a male team, she has been an integral part of the sole women’s club in the country, ZHK Lavice Sarajevo, since its foundation in 2016. Bosnia & Herzegovina currently has 52 registered female players. But participating numbers are in rapid growth and have doubled between 2021 to 2023.

“In the previous ten years, girls quit playing ice hockey due to lack of interest, short hockey season, education or other reasons. At that time our hockey season lasted approximately up to two months. The conditions have improved drastically from that period with ice time lasting up to eight months a year. Nowadays, more girls and boys are easily attracted to ice hockey in our community,” Hanic said.

Next up for Hanic and her WHPP colleagues will be taking part in the 1st IHL Women’s Ice Hockey Cup and WHPP Academy held in Maribor, Slovenia between 7-9 April 2023. The educational part includes workshops for players, coaches, leaders, and game officials while out on the ice, an all-girl tournament will be contested. A similar set-up will then be held in two of the other participating countries across the region throughout the duration of the project.

“The WHPP project itself is based on the International Hockey League (IHL), established by the Ice Hockey Federation of Slovenia in 2017. The IHL is a regional club competition aimed at the development of ice hockey at all levels and age categories,” said Kontrec.

Currently three Slovenian and one Croatian team are competing in the women’s IHL. In conjunction to it there is also the Women’s Development Hockey League (WDHL). Organized once per month and alternating between each of the three participant countries Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia & Herzegovina. Aided by the WHPP project, hopes are high for all three countries in the WDHL to soon be ready to debut at the U18 Women’s World Championship category.

“The goal of the WHPP project will be to increase the number of female players, particularly young players, as well as properly educate them in various aspects of the sport. So that those participating federations, currently without U18 national teams, would be able to apply and participate in world championships. This would generate additional promotion and provide long-term stability and development of all women’s clubs in the region,” said Kontrec.