By Nam Hyun-woo
Korea's national ice hockey team has been without a foreign coach for nine months, although it is one of urgent steps to improve the team's performance and get a ticket to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Gangwon Province.
The Korea Ice Hockey Association (KIHA) earlier announced that it will appoint a foreign coach in May. However, it has failed to do so.
"We are doing our utmost to find the best coach. Currently, we are contacting many candidates who could lead Team Korea to the PyeongChang Games," an official at the KIHA said.
Since November, the association has been looking for a foreign coach to raise the team's ranking in the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) standings, a pre-condition to play in the next Olympics.
But the chances are very slim for Korea, which ranks 23rd, given that the top nine countries in the IIHF world ranking automatically get spots in the 12-team Olympic competition.
According to sources familiar to domestic ice hockey, the KIHA "pleaded" with the IIHF in November to find a way for Korea to make it into the PyeongChang Games.
The IIHF acknowledged the awkwardness of a "festival without the host" in the sport, and promised Korea's qualification at its discretion with one condition.
"(It is) progress in performance," the KIHA official said, "IIHF Chairman Rene Fasel said Korea should at least show a better performance to compete equally with international powerhouses such as Sweden."
The bottom line suggested was to raise its world ranking to 18th.
Previously, the IIHF recommended an assistant coach of a Swiss club, and the KIHA and the coach were about to sign an agreement. But he cancelled the deal after being offered a job in the National Hockey League.
"We will appoint a new coach in August at the latest. We expect the coach can lead the team until 2018," the official said.
The team showed a dismal performance at the 2014 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division 1 Group A held in Goyang in April.
In that competition, the Koreans lost all five of their games, even being defeated by the lowly ranked Ukraine 2-8.
"If we performed well at Goyang, we could have at least brought up our issue to the IIHF," the official said. After the dismal performance, Korea was relegated to Group B.
Korea's qualification will be determined at the latest in May, 2016, at the IIHF general meeting. Otherwise, Korea will have to fight its way through the tough preliminary qualification rounds for the remaining three spots.
There is no host country which has failed to send its ice hockey team to the Winter Olympics.
Since the 2010 Olympics at Vancouver, the IHHF scrapped the direct qualification for the host. Since Canada and Russia, the host country of 2014 Sochi Games, hover around the top of the world ranking, the IHHF did not need to grant direct qualification.