Wednesday’s meeting in New York City involving the NHL, its players and the IIHF to discuss involvement in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games will resolve nothing. There will be no grandiose statements, fireworks and the singing of “We are the World”.
What we will hear is that the nearly 20 million US dollars required by the league and its players for travel, insurance, logistics and hospitality will be underwritten by the Rene Fasel and the Federation. It’s been made quite obvious for the past year that the IOC has no intention of paying that sort of money directly to shut the NHL down for more than two weeks to play in Pyeongchang, South Korea. But the Federation, which actually runs the Olympic Ice Hockey Tournament, feel the need for the game’s best players to be there, and thusly, will foot the bill.
And while the players have voiced opinions that they indeed want to go to the Olympics, there are people both internally and externally who question the IIIHF paying the tab at the expense of other world events and grass root initiatives. Is it more important to put the best on the ice in a 2018 tournament, or try to build and promote the game as a whole around the world? Is it better to support the women’s game, particularly in Europe, or have Jonathan Toews vs Patrick Kane in South Korea? Should monies that have been labelled for B- and C-level events in countries just learning about the game be re-allocated to see Canada try and defend its Olympic title? Those are questions the federation has to answer and be held accountable for, before a decision is made.
Both the NHL and NHLPA have had fact-finding trips to the city of 4 million people. What they found was insufficient hotel and hospitality space to match what was in both Vancouver and Sochi. The set-up would force families, sponsors and VIPs to stay in the national capital of Seoul, which is about 90 minutes away from the venues by bullet train.
This would certainly remind many of 1998 in Nagano, Japan where everyone was housed in the resort town of Karuizawa, almost two hours from the two hockey arenas in Nagano. That, and the lack of access for league/team executives, left a bad taste in the mouths of many. It was certainly a far cry from the Olympic experience in Salt Lake, Vancouver or Sochi.
There is also a real fear that if the NHL does in fact commit to play in 2018, corners will be cut on the needed expenses and cost cutting will occur prior to the Games. The possibility that team personnel and players would travel by commercial airlines are real and would certainly be different from the the charters that delivered everyone to the Russian city on the Black Sea in 2014.
The belief that participation in South Korea is the only avenue to participate in the 2022 games in China is just not true. The IIHF maintains they are not connected at all. That leaves the possibility of not going to South Korea, but returning to the Games four years later, and an opportunity to introduce and promote the game to more than 1 billion Chinese people.
So, on the surface, the good news that the IIHF will cover the needed costs has to be viewed with a bit of trepidation. Does it truly make sense for the NHL to shut down for 17 or 18 days for elite players to enjoy the Olympic experience, at the expense of growing the game globally? We won’t know that on Wednesday, but we will know roughly within the next 60 days.