Pressure to improve puts 2018 Korean Olympic hockey team in doubt
The 2018 men's Olympic hockey tournament will take place in PyeongChang, South Korea, the first time that Asia has hosted the Winter Games since 1998 in Nagano. In the latest IIHF rankings, the Korean team is ranked 23rd, but that number may not be good enough to see them participate in four years time.
All 23 Olympic hockey tournaments have seen the host country take part and the Korean Ice Hockey Association is doing all it can, like looking for a foreign head coach, to improve its standing in order to ice a team in 2018. That's in response to a bit of pressure from the IIHF.
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."
That “progress,” according to IIHF president Rene Fasel, is a world ranking of 18th, as he mentioned during a press conference in April:
It’s the wish of the federation that the host team can participate in the Winter Olympics. That’s a goal and that’s why we are here but we have to be careful not to have lopsided results too. That’s a challenge especially if we have NHL players coming. There’s no sense for the Korean team to be in PyeongChang and lose 15-0 against Canada, the USA or Russia.
The Korean team is on a good road although people are disappointed they couldn’t perform as expected here but we will have meetings about that. Our recommendation to the Korean Ice Hockey Association for a free entry is that the men’s national team needs to be 18th or better in the World Ranking. But there are still different ways to go. They can go through the qualification or they could have a free entry. But they need to improve and present a program that can fit.
After going winless at the Division I Group A world championships in April, Korea was relegated to Group B for 2015. They will need a stronger showing against the likes of the Netherlands, Lithuania, Great Britain, Estonia and Croatia to bolster their hopes of playing among the world's elite in four years time.
Currently, the top-nine ranked countries and three qualifiers make up the 12-team men's Olympic tournament. If Korea is not automatically entered as host, they'll have to go through the qualification process, which has yet to be determined for 2018 yet.
- - - - - - -
Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy