(Reuters) – Four-time Olympian and former International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Angela Ruggiero said the National Hockey League’s (NHL) pullout from the Beijing Winter Games is unlikely to prompt widespread withdrawals among other athletes.
The NHL agreed last September to pause its season so the world’s top players could compete in Beijing but has been beset with pandemic-related disruptions in recent weeks, and said on Wednesday that its players would not compete when the Games kick off in February.
But while the announcement sent shock waves through the sport, Ruggiero told Reuters few athletes were likely to follow suit.
“This isn’t just another tournament,” she told Reuters. “(It’s) a buildup of your life’s work, so if you trust Beijing organising committee and the IOC and that everyone is doing as much as they’re in control of, as an athlete, you know I think most will put their hand up.”
Ruggiero won ice hockey gold for the United States in 1998, the first year that NHL athletes competed in the Games, and said the decision from the league and its players’ association was understandable, with the pandemic forcing a “different phase in sports.”
“I don’t think you’ll get another announcement like this – but maybe it gives permission to other athletes that are uncomfortable,” said Ruggiero, the CEO of sports and technology firm Sports Innovation Lab.
“If you’ve been training during the pandemic and all of that … At this point you’re used to the hurdles to compete.”
Countries relying heavily on NHL talent – in particular the United States and perennial powerhouse Canada – will quickly have to put together new plans for their men’s teams. The NHL announcement has no immediate impact on women’s teams.
“Anytime any athlete puts on their country’s sweater they’re going to go hard,” she said. “You’re going to see a battle, just maybe not know all the names on the ice.”
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)