(ATR) NHL participation in Beijing 2022 "is not a priority" says commissioner Gary Bettman.
Bettman advises that he recently had another meeting with International Ice Hockey Federation president René Fasel, with NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr also present. However, the commissioner says there is "no news to report" about the league’s participation at the Beijing Winter Games.
"I don’t want to sound like a broken record on the subject, but I think going to the Olympics is a challenge for us," Bettman said, prior to a game between Buffalo and Tampa Bay in Stockholm last Friday as part of the NHL Global Series.
The National Hockey League continues to place emphasis on growing the brand internationally by staging regular season games in Europe such as the Stockholm date.
"I know the players love representing their countries, I know that the players like going, I know that the players that don’t go like having a break in the middle of the season, but from our standpoint, we have found going to the Olympics to be incredibly disruptive to our season."
In April 2017, the NHL announced that it would not send its players to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, ending a string of participation at four consecutives Games dating to Nagano 1998. Despite players and fans expressing displeasure with the decision, Bettman asserts that shutting down the NHL season for two to three weeks in February is not in the best interest of the league and its owners.
Bettman referred to disputes between the NHL and the IOC, specifically related to players’ insurance concerns and Olympic promotion.
"We don’t get the opportunity, because the IOC won’t permit us, to even promote the fact that we’re going with our players and that we’re shutting down," said Bettman, the NHL commissioner since 1993.
"It’s a complicated issue, it’s something that the players’ association continues to raise with us. It’s something that René Fasel and the IIHF continue to raise with us, but as I said previously, there’s nothing new to report in that regard because for us, at best, it’s a mixed bag and again I think it has some pretty materialdownsides in terms of what happens to our season."
Asked for a response to Bettman’s comments, Fasel succinctly tells Around the Rings: "there is nothing to comment or report on this matter."
Despite Bettman’s pessimism towards Olympic participation in Beijing 2022, the NHL continues to showcase its’ product outside of North America, playing both exhibition and regular season contests in Asia and Europe. Exhibition games have been held in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen in September of 2017 and 2018.
The current NHL Global Series featured two regular season games in Stockholm last week and one in Prague opening the season for the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks on October 4th. The NHL clubsprepared with exhibition games in Lausanne and Berlin, allowing European fans to witness some of their national players in action.
The 2019 NHL Global Series is the third consecutive year and eighth season overall that the NHL has traveled to Europe for regular season contests. It was announced in Stockholm that the international series will continue in Prague and Helsinki next season.
NHL vice-president Bill Daly, speaking last month in Prague, said international matches are a positive for the NHL. But the Olympics are another matter.
"Certainly we have a commitment from our Board of Governors, our owners, that they think playing games internationally is important," Daly said. "It’s important for the growth of the sport fundamentally, it’s important for player development and ultimately it’s important for our growing our business, so we have a commitment to be here regularly and we intend to do that going forward.
From an NHL owners perspective, Olympic participating is not seen as something essential or even useful to do our business," Daly said.
"It’s highly disruptive to our season, it puts our players in jeopardy of injury with no financial benefit to the NHL or clubs, so it’s not something, in a neutral environment, that we would elect to do.
"We also understand how important it is to our players – we’ve heard it loud and clear that if the conditions are right, they would like to participate and we certainly respect their view.
"I’m not ruling it out, but I think its part of a broader discussion, not only with the Players Association, but with the IOC as well."
Written and reported by Brian Pinelli. For general comments or questions,click here.