The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has expressed its regret that the world’s best ice hockey players will miss next year’s Winter Games after the National Hockey League opted against participation in Pyeongchang.
The NHL reached a decision on Monday to not release its players for the Games, saying talks to find a solution to the problem of halting their league mid-season to accommodate the Olympics in the past had not been successful.
“I feel sorry for the athletes because for them it must be a great disappointment,” IOC President Thomas Bach told reporters in Aarhus on Tuesday. “Obviously, they (NHL) wanted more money or whatever, we do not know what they really wanted.
“The IOC policy cannot be there to give more money, finances, to a commercially orientated owner of a club in a national league,” Bach added, admitting that he had expected the NHL’s decision.
In an earlier statement, the IOC said: “The decision is even more regrettable, as the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) had offered the same conditions to the NHL as at previous Olympic Games, where the insurance and travel costs were covered.”
The Pyeongchang Winter Games will take place in South Korea from Feb. 9-25 next year.
Unhappy over the prospect of shutting down their season for almost three weeks, the NHL had been seeking major concessions from the IOC, including recognition comparable to that of an Olympic top sponsor, for taking part.
The IOC and the IIHF had agreed to ensure payment of transportation and insurance for the players after having initially refused, in an effort to reach an agreement.
The decision will impact almost every major hockey-playing nation with the Swedish, Finnish, Russian, United States and Canadian teams almost entirely comprised of NHL representatives.
However, some players have said they would like to go to the Games irrespective of what the league had decided.
“We players knew nothing, because naturally they haven’t spoken to us,” Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson told Swedish sports newspaper Sportbladet.
“It’s so idiotic. Whoever did this has obviously no idea what they are doing.”
With both the 2018 and the 2022 Winter Games in Asia and the NHL making efforts to tap into the region’s lucrative market, the logic behind the decision was lost on Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who plays for the New York Rangers.
“Disappointing news, @NHL won’t be part of the Olympics 2018. A huge opportunity to market the game at the biggest stage is wasted,” he said on Twitter.
Bach said all players, including those in the NHL, were welcome should they decide to compete in South Korea. “For us, the players are always welcome. If any NHL player wants to join his Olympic team then he is most welcome,” he said.