The Floorball World Championships finally get under way in Zurich and Winterthur on Saturday, 5th November 2022. We discussed this with Thomas Baumgartner, a top referee for many years who is now working as an area manager for DUSCHOLUX. Thomas Baumgartner tells us how the sport of floorball has changed in recent years. He goes on to reveal whether he was more of a hidden champion or a playmaker during his playing days.
Thomas Baumgartner. You have been in the floorball business in various capacities for quite some time. How has the sport developed in your opinion?
BAUMGARTNER: It has become a completely different type of sport since my first encounter with floorball 35 years ago. With regard to material, of course, whereby only two different types of stick were available in the beginning, for example. We had wooden boards, some of which we even made ourselves. Setting up a tournament was hard work because of the heavy elements.
A lot has also changed in terms of regulations over the course of time. For example, the goalkeeper used to have a stick. The sport became increasingly athletic, and performance at the top level is much more professional. And not least, the interest of the media has also increased significantly, of course.
We report on our commitment to Hidden Champions. Hand on heart: Were you also such a hero in the background during your playing days, or were you more of a playmaker?
BAUMGARTNER: I wasn’t a particularly talented player, but I was passionate about it... Also later as a coach, a board member and particularly during my 23 years as a referee. You shouldn’t be the centre of attention as such. But of course, you also work on your career and your goals, and are pleased to be in a World Championship final, for example.
Other sports are heavily dominated by money and investors. This doesn’t seem to be the case in floorball. Is this assumption correct, and if so, is it a good thing?
BAUMGARTNER: Of course, money is also an issue in floorball. I do think that things have changed since more money has been available. This automatically increases the pressure on clubs to succeed. But the players are not professionals, and even the foreign backup players have jobs. This certainly helps them to keep their feet on the ground. That is why I think floorball is still very authentic as a team sport.
Time and time again, there is talk of making floorball an Olympic sport in the future. Do you think that there would be sufficient talent and training locations in Switzerland?
BAUMGARTNER: Switzerland is undoubtedly one of the top countries, and therefore has what it takes to dream about the Olympics, of course. However, it is a fundamental challenge in Switzerland, since the majority of clubs play in sports halls. There is a lack of infrastructure everywhere, such as comfortable stands or catering facilities which ensure that the spectators have a more attractive match experience. But training facilities are also an ongoing issue for the majority of clubs.
The World Championships are on the agenda in Zurich and Winterthur. How important is this event for the sport?
BAUMGARTNER: The bi-annual World Championships are THE showcase for floorball. This moves away from the sports hall image and into ultra-modern multifunctional arenas. The venues are suddenly filled with 12,000 spectators rather than 300. There is also a considerable amount of media attention - SRF (Swiss Radio and Television) is turning the Floorball World Championships into a sporting event this year, for example, and will be broadcasting at least one match every day. Attractive images go around the world and show what this great sport is all about. The sport can certainly benefit from this.
What do the World Championships mean for the referees?
BAUMGARTNER: For me personally, the World Championships have always been a kind of compensation for the work that I put in as a referee. Being allowed to perform on the big stage and officiate top matches or even a World Championship final is also a career highlight for the referee.
A little prediction on your part. Who is going to be the 2022 world champion?
BAUMGARTNER: There isn’t much to choose between the top four countries. Personally I would like Switzerland to be the world champion, of course. It would be interesting to see what kind of boost a title such as this would give to Swiss floorball.