René Fasel, the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, has called on NHL players to push the North American league into allowing them to compete at the 2022 winter Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
NHL players will be absent from next month’s Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, after the league said last April that no dialogue had taken place to convince it of the benefits of disrupting its season to allow its stars to compete at the Olympics.
It will end a run of five consecutive winter Games with the league’s players, and Fasel (pictured) has moved to ensure that players have a greater say on whether or not they compete in the Beijing Games.
“The solution is in the hands of the players,” Fasel said, according to the Associated Press news agency. “Because without the players what can we do? If they want to come to the Games, they have to say so.”
When asked if there is a realistic chance of a deal being struck for the Games, Fasel said: “I have to. I have no choice. I have to for the hockey fans, for our game.”
Don Fehr, executive director of the NHL Players Association, responded by telling the AP that the league is not in a position to begin negotiations on a new bargaining agreement next year in order to push through a deal for the Beijing Games. The NHL’s current labour deal expires at the end of the 2021-22 season and includes a renegotiation window in September 2020.
“I would like to believe that by the time we get there that the owners would have a much greater interest and understanding of the potential value that it could have,” Fehr said.
“Whether those discussions take place in collective bargaining or take place separately in discussing the international agenda or some combination of that, I think it’s too soon to say.”
China represents a key strategic market for the NHL, which last September staged two pre-season games in the country when the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks faced off in Shanghai and Beijing.
Regarding the NHL’s stance on Beijing 2022, the league’s deputy commissioner, Bill Daly, said: “The issues with each Olympics are different. Obviously, some of the logistical difficulties we have with South Korea will be the same in China. But maybe there are some opportunities in China that aren’t in South Korea.”