The status of China’s men’s ice hockey team for the Beijing 2022 Games appears to be in serious doubt, a developing situation that is being closely evaluated.
According to the newly elected International Ice Hockey Federation president Luc Tardif, a two-game “test event”, ideally at the Wukesong Sports Center in Beijing, will be conducted in October. The primary purpose will be to further evaluate and ultimately decide whether the world’s number 32 ranked hockey team is at a sufficient level to compete against National Hockey League players in the Olympic tournament.
As the host nation, the Chinese hockey players were supposed to be granted an automatic qualification, however Tardif is concerned, particularly considering that China’s national team has yet to play together on a regular basis.
“We’ve tried to explain to the Chinese people that if we have the best players from the NHL, the best players in the world coming to the Olympic Games and if they don’t do anything to bring a competitive team, it’s not going to work,” Tardif tells Around the Rings on a phone call, while driving to Paris on Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s not going to be good for ice hockey to see a 15-0 game, and it’s not going to be for China also,” Tardif notes, about the team slated to play at the Olympics in Group A, versus North American powers Canada and the United States, in addition to the PyeongChang 2018 silver medalists, Germany.
Tardif says the IIHF is planning to send a German team to Beijing to compete against China at the test event, which will be overseen and evaluated by IIHF veteran sport director David Fitzpatrick.
“He will supervise the test and after that we will decide they can play (in Beijing) or not,” Tardif says. “We want to give them a chance - we have a meeting with them next week and we have to take a decision soon.
“They didn’t do their job properly preparing for the competitions,” Tardif says of the Chinese ice hockey federation, noting the team has only played a few games. “At the moment, they are trying to find a way to maybe bring some other eligible players – at the same time we don’t want to change our rules because they didn’t do their job. It’s not going to happen.
“Let’s see how they play in this test and we’ll have an idea really soon, and after that maybe they will be ready,” Tardif adds.
Tardif also noted that prior to the recent qualification Olympic qualification tournament, in which Denmark, Latvia and Slovakia secured the final three berths, the teams were told that the next highest seeded country could be invited to Beijing, if China was deemed not ready. Norway, ranked 11th, would be granted the final spot.
Adding to the complexity of staging the test event, Chinese authorities are advising the hockey federation that all international players would need to quarantine in a hotel for 25 days prior to the contests.
“We also want to test the facility, but the protocol is a problem for us,” he says about the requested quarantine. “That’s not going to help.”
The new hockey president, who has French and Canadian citizenship, says the IOC has been kept updated on the evolving situation.
“We have already started to discuss with the IOC, explaining exactly what we are going to do and I think they will follow us,” he said.
Tardif says a final decision about the dates and place of the test is expected to be determined next week.
NHL in Beijing update
Tardif also provided an update on the “Principal Agreement” struck between the IIHF, IOC, National Hockey League and its Players Association (NHLPA) on September 3.
“I think everything is almost settled, but one question that no one can answer is what is going to happen with the COVID,” Tardif said, about a return of NHL stars to the Olympic ice. “The NHL is worried about the insurance, so we are so close and so far.”
Final details and logistics still need to worked out, a process that Tardif says he will working in cooperation with the former IIHF president Rene Fasel, who stepped down after 27 years, having overseen five Olympic tournaments with NHL players.
“The only thing at the moment in the discussion is when will be the deadline?” the IIHF leader says. “If suddenly, the NHL says ‘ok, we are not going’ it means all the national teams will not have time to prepare a Plan B and that’s not easy. They cannot say two weeks before the Games, we are not going.”
“For us, we want this as soon as possible and they understand the IOC will not accept everything too,” Tardif explains. “However, I am optimistic we will be able to do this,” he says, of NHL participation in China.
Tardif also noted there are no issues concerning China’s women’s team taking the ice in Beijing as they’ve previously demonstrated their suitable level of play and abilities, unlike the men’s squad.
“The women have already played for a long time in the Russian league so actually they will be at the level, or not far behind,” Tardif said.
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