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NHL Announces It Won't Play Nice With 2018 Winter Olympics

The Olympic rings symbol is seen in Gangneung, near the venue for the ice hockey events, as preparations continue for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea.
Chung Sung-Jun
Getty Images
The Olympic rings symbol is seen in Gangneung, near the venue for the ice hockey events, as preparations continue for the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea.

The NHL won't be pausing its season to allow players to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics, officials announced on Monday.

Many pro players have expressed a desire to compete in the Games at Pyeongchang, South Korea. But the league says it doesn't see a benefit to the sport — and does see a risk of injuries.

The NHL has allowed players to participate in every Olympic Games since 1998.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, disputes over money played a role in the decision not to continue.

The International Olympic Committee has previously paid for players to travel to the Olympics, and covered their insurance costs. But the IOC wasn't planning to foot the bill for 2018.

The International Ice Hockey Federation offered to cover the costs instead. But one NHL writer says "there was concern the funds would come from assets that would otherwise be used to grow the game at the grassroots level."

The Associated Press, meanwhile, reports that "the NHL had been looking for more concessions that were believed to include marketing opportunities tied to the Games."

Some of the world's top hockey players have sent "clear signs" that they want to compete at the Olympics, the AP reports. After the NHL announced its decision, one former NHL player tweeted, "way to ruin the sport of hockey even more Gary" — that is, Commissioner Gary Bettman.

NHL columnist Nicholas J. Cotsonika acknowledged that "the players wanted to go," in a column expressing support for the decision. He said that the NHL has been "lending its players to someone else's tournament," without getting any boost in ratings or revenue.

"The NHL did it without the Olympics for 80 years and will do so again," Cotsonika wrote.

(Cotsonika also writes that the players' Olympics careers were essentially subsidized by their NHL salaries. That's a point that came up obliquely in a recent dispute between the women's national hockey team and USA Hockey, where the women — who don't have the benefit of hefty NHL checks — noted how poorly they were compensated for their Olympic efforts.)

ESPN notes that the announcement might not be the end of the conversation:

"Some players, including Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, have said they would play in the Olympics regardless of whether the league was formally committed or not. The league did not address this issue in its release, but league officials expect players to fulfill their contractual commitments to play with their respective clubs."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.

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