NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said “people should assume” that players from the North American ice hockey league will not be competing at next year’s winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang with talks between the relevant parties having reached an impasse.
Next year’s Games in South Korea are due to take place from February 9-25 – halfway through the NHL season – and the league has expressed its concerns over players picking up injuries while competing in Pyeongchang and playing in a market that is not a hotbed for the sport.
Talks between the NHL, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last took place in February. No meetings between the three bodies are planned in the near future and Bettman (pictured) has dropped the biggest hint yet that NHL players will not be present at Pyeongchang 2018.
“There are no negotiations ongoing,” Bettman told the Reuters news agency. “We were open to having discussions on a variety of things that might mitigate the damage to our season but that had no resonance. As things stand now people should assume we are not going.”
In December, the NHL Players Association, the representative body for professionals in the league, rejected a proposal from the league, under which players would be cleared to compete, if the NHLPA agreed to extend the current collective bargaining agreement in place between the two entities by three years until 2025.
The current eight-year deal includes an opt-out option which activates in 2019, but December’s proposal did not include such a clause.
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 Reuters, the NHL has now said that the IOC will have to backtrack and pay player insurance and transportation costs.
Bettman added: “We’re not negotiating publicly. The point is I was trying to emphasise the fact that this is terribly disruptive to our business and there seems to be no offsetting way to mitigate that disruption. I've suggested why don't you treat us like a top sponsor.
"When the IOC comes to us and says, 'by the way we know it cost $15m (€14.2m) to $20m to send your players between insurance, charter costs and accommodations for the players' … well we're not going to pay for that. If they don't value our participation why are we going.”
Bettman said there “may not be any next steps” in the discussion process. He also pointed to the relative lack of major league sport in the US in February as a reason for avoiding the Games.
“Remember, this is February, there is no baseball, no football, it is just us and basketball and we just disappear,” he said. “We don't get content for the NHL Network, we don't get content for our social media platforms and NHL.com.
“Why did we do it five times? Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time but we have been unable to quantify any benefit from it.”