January deadline set for decision on NHL players at Pyeongchang 2018

January deadline set for decision on NHL players at Pyeongchang 2018
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National Hockey League (NHL) players will not appear in the men’s ice hockey tournament at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang if an agreement is not reached by January of next year.

International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President René Fasel revealed the cut-off point and admitted things “do not look good” as efforts continue to get the sport’s top stars at the Games.

The NHL, which has clubs in Canada and the United States, is the world’s elite ice hockey league.

Its players have featured at every Winter Olympics since Nagano 1998, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has always footed the bill for insurance and travel costs.

This support has been withdrawn for Pyeongchang 2018, however, leaving the IIHF and NHL to shoulder the financial burden.

Fasel believes the figure will come to $10 million (£7 million/€9 million) while reluctance from some quarters within the NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) is another stumbling block.

Both organisations are yet to commit players for Pyeongchang 2018.

With the January 2017 deadline now set, time is running out for a consensus, although as an agreement for Sochi 2014 was reached just seven months before the Opening Ceremony it remains to be seen if the time limit will be set in stone.

“The IOC said clearly they would not pay player transportation and insurance,” said Fasel, who exclusively revealed the difficulties in striking a deal to insidethegames last month.

“In the budget that we have, we have to find $10 million to make this happen.

“We still have the challenge of convincing the NHL and NHLPA to come.

“Now we have another challenge within our Federation to convince people that we have to find the money so it is even more difficult than it was before.”

One factor working in the IIHF’s favour is that NHL players are keen to attend the Games.

“For every athlete to win an Olympic gold medal is very special,” Fasel added.

“I think we expect that the players want to go and that is a very positive point.

“When I speak with the NHLPA there is a huge interest in going.

“We will work very hard to make this happen but it does not look very good.”

It would be a major blow for the Olympics if players from the world’s best known league were not present.

The risk of injuries at a crucial stage of the season and the need to shut the league down for three weeks are thought to be reasons for caution in the NHL camp.

The NHL is also thought to be less keen to compete at Pyeongchang 2018 in comparison with the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, due to the greater commercial possibilities in China than South Korea.

Fasel warned them earlier this year that they cannot “pick and choose” between Olympics.

Christophe Dubi, the IOC’s Executive Director for the Olympic Games, claimed in response to a question about the cost sharing in February that it is in the “best interests of all parties that the players come”.

“At present what is being discussed, is the practical implementation of these [transportation and insurance] measures,” he told insidethegames during the the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer.

In total, the IOC were thought to have contributed around $14 million (£10 million/€13 million) for Sochi 2014.

Around half of this amount was on transportation.

The long journey and time difference from North America to South Korea is a factor working against Pyeongchang 2018 and it is not possible for all players to travel on one plane to the Olympics due to security concerns.

Part of the reason for the IOC decision is thought to relate to a worry that professional bodies in other sports will seek similar financial support, including tennis, basketball, golf and, potentially, baseball should it be added to the Olympic programme for Tokyo 2020.

Dan Palmer, insidethegames.biz

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