By Rick Horrow
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – While the National Hockey League has not yet committed to the 2018 Winter Olympics, commissioner Gary Bettman said on Sunday that being on a global stage was unquestionably a positive. The league has participated in each Winter Olympics since 1998, but has long believed it puts more into its Olympic investment than it gets in return, raising doubts over its decision for next year’s Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “There’s the worldwide stage that the Olympics provides except they don’t promote NHL hockey,” Bettman told Reuters before the start of the All-Star Game at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.
“They take the players and run their own tournament. “It’s great to have the world’s best-on-best play but, in the final analysis, the restrictions that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) imposes are difficult when you’re in our situation, particularly where we are the only sports league or sport that has to stop its season to participate if we choose to participate (at the Games).” With the NHL already unhappy at shutting down in the middle of the season to allow players to participate in the Olympics, the IOC further antagonized the league by announcing last year that it would no longer cover insurance and travel costs. While the IOC has had problems convincing NHL owners that Olympic ideals are noble and worth pursuing, the players have bought in.
Russian captain Alex Ovechkin says he plans to compete in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games no matter what the league decides, while the NHL Players’ Association head Donald Fehr acknowledged playing in the Olympics is something the players want. Asked for an update on possible player involvement at the 2018 Olympics, Bettman replied: “There’s nothing new on that regard,” he said.
“It is incredible disruptive. What business in the prime of its selling season shuts down for three weeks? “It affects the competitiveness of the league, it affects the schedule not just for those three weeks but for the rest of the season with compression.
“We disappear when football and baseball are gone and it’s just us and basketball. It’s very, very difficult to manage a season with that type of disruption.”
(Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in St. Augustine, Florida; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)