Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), has called on the NHL to confirm by the end of next month whether it intends to allow its players to compete at the 2018 winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The Games are due to take place from February 9-25 – halfway through the NHL season – and the North American league has been reluctant to commit to the Games amid concerns over injuries and playing in a market that is not a hotbed for the sport.
Earlier this week, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman dropped the strongest hint yet that the league would not be represented at the Games when stating that “people should assume” that it would not be sending players.
The NHL, the IIHF and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last held talks on the matter in February and no meetings are planned for the near future.
Fasel (pictured) has spoken of his wish to find a speedy solution with less than a year to go until the Games. “I hope we can find a compromise in the next two or three weeks,” Fasel told the Associated Press news agency. “We need to know by the end of April if they’re coming, or not.”
Fasel added that representatives from national teams including Canada and Russia have asked him whether they should start formulating plans to take second-string squads to the Games.
NHL players have participated in the last five Olympics since the 1998 edition, but problems over covering costs have been common in the build-up to the Games ever since. The NHL had been in discussions with the IIHF over travel and insurance costs in a bid to reach an agreement. In the past, these costs have been covered by the IOC.
According to the AP, the NHL will only commit to sending players to Pyeongchang if it is granted rights to showcase Olympic highlights on its television network, website and social media channels.
In an email to the AP, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said: “In the absence of any material change to the current status quo, NHL players will not be participating in the 2018 winter Olympics.”
While the league is not said to be keen on sending players to next year’s event, it is reportedly interested in taking part in the 2022 winter Olympics, which will be held in the Chinese capital of Beijing.
However Fasel has said the league may not be able to pick and choose which events it sends players to. “If they don't go to Korea, it will be very difficult for them to go to Beijing," he said. "The IOC will be in a different position and it would be a totally different deal on the table for the NHL. The NHL has more to lose than to win if they don't come to Pyeongchang. If they don't come, they will isolate themselves."