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The participation of NHL players in the 2018 Winter Olympics is in doubt according to the International Ice Hockey Federation.
President Rene Fasel said it “doesn’t look very good” when asked about NHL players taking part in the Olympics, which will take place in PyeongChang, South Korea.
If the league and NHLPA decide not to go, it would be the first Winter Olympics since 1998 without NHL involvement.
“It is my job to work day and night to find a solution,” Fasel said Monday in an interview with Postmedia at the World Championships. “That’s why people elected me, but we played 70 years without the NHL. And then in 1998 we started, so five Olympics now, and we have to find a common way.”
In late April, Fasel revealed the International Olympic Committee’s decision to not pay insurance or transportation for NHL players. The IOC had paid for insurance and transportation for NHL players in all five Games where they have participated. At the time, ESPN's Pierre LeBrun noted this could be a "bargaining ploy by the IOC" since negotiations between all sides were in their early stages.
Said Fasel, “In the foreseeable budget that we have, we have to find $10 million. I think the NHL is doing way enough. (NHL commissioner Gary Bettman) said to me, ‘Rene, we don’t pay the insurance and transportation.’ So we have to find somebody to pay that. For us, it will be very difficult. We have to find ways to bring the money together. It’s not easy, but hopefully we will make it.”
Originally it was believed the decision for the 2022 Olympics to be put in Beijing, China would help the NHL decide to go to South Korea. The thought was participation in both countries would help the NHL’s footprint in Asia and enhance global growth of the game.
Instead, Beijing is seen as the more important location and the league is reportedly looking at going there rather than South Korea. This is because of China’s large population and vast economy. Also location and time zone issues in comparison to North America make it more difficult for the league to swallow their players going to South Korea for lesser impact on the growth of the NHL than China.
Wrote ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside in early April:
The next two Olympic Games will be held far away from North America and outside of the prime-time television window. If the league were just considering the prospect of South Korea, it would be all but out by now. But the lure of China has given Bettman pause. As it should.
Could the NHL make inroads in the world's most populous country? Could there be lasting benefits for the league that would make shutting down the NHL for three weeks or so -- and the risk of injury to NHL owners' most important assets, the players -- more palatable for at least two more Olympic tournaments before a possible return to a North American venue in 2026 or 2030?
But Fasel said choosing one Olympics over the other isn’t prudent.
“It’s not about playing in the more interesting place to play,” he said. “To be consistent and to be credible, they should also come to 2018. The good point I have is that the players also want to come.”
Not going to the 2018 Olympics could lead to some top NHL talent breaking ranks and going anyway. Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin has said he will go to the 2018 Olympics to play for Russia even if the NHL decides not to go.
The story from Postmedia points out such threats from Russian NHL players worked in 2014 for the Sochi Olympics, because of the importance for them to play on home soil. These may carry less weight with the South Korea Olympics.
The World Cup of Hockey will take place this September, which also may lessen the appeal of the Olympics to some players.
The NHL and NHLPA are expected to announce a decision on the Games at some point this summer.
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