Coronavirus could foil NHL hope for China pre-season games

·2 min read
Vancouver Canucks fans enjoyed their beloved NHL team in a pre-season game at Beijing in 2017 but hopes for a return by the NHL to China in 2020 could be scuttled by the coronavirus outbreak, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said (AFP Photo/NICOLAS ASFOURI) (AFP/File)

New York (AFP) - National Hockey League officials still hope to play pre-season games in China ahead of the 2020-21 campaign but are closely watching the spread of the coronavirus, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

In a posting Wednesday on the league's website, Daly said plans for games in China, a follow-on to pre-season NHL games in China in 2017 and 2018 before arena booking issues scuttled 2019 plans, could be impacted by the outbreak that began in China but has spread rapidly to become a worldwide concern.

"We're monitoring," Daly said. "It's hard not to monitor it. It seems to be coming closer to us every time, every day that goes by. Certainly it impacts what our plans will be in China in the future and in the relatively near future.

"We haven't announced any games there. I think there was certainly a hope that we would be able to play preseason games there next (season). I would say that hope probably continues to exist, but as time goes on, it becomes far more problematic."

The NHL has been trying to raise its profile in China ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics but the league has not committed to shutting down its season and allowing its star players to compete for their homelands two years from now.

The NHL first created a February break for the Winter Olympics at Nagano in 1998 and did so for 2002 at Salt Lake City, 2006 at Turin, 2010 at Vancouver and 2014 at Sochi but did not shut down for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee had issues about paying insurance and lodging for NHL players while NHL club owners, already wary of losing a superstar to Olympic injury, objected to not being even allowed to use Olympic highlights to promote their players' feats.

Daly said a meeting earlier this month was a positive sign, but also noted that NHL club owners remain opposed to participating at Beijing in 2022.

"It was the first time in recent memory that the IOC acknowledged some of our concerns vis a vis expense reimbursement and shared some of our views with respect to being commercial partners with them," Daly said.

"So, I think it was a very positive meeting. Overall, our owners have made a decision that generally Olympic participation is nothing that the league would favor.

"But we also understand it's important to our players, and so it's part of a complicated mix of issues we have to work through."