BUFFALO – International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel said he has “no choice” but to broker an agreement to have the NHL participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, but acknowledged there is no way the international body will be able to afford to pay the NHL’s travel and insurance expenses.
So once again it will be up to the players to decide how much Olympic participation means to them. It puts them in an untenable spot to force them to make that choice. Do they continue to put up with the much-despised escrow payments in exchange for Olympic participation? Because if this is a collective bargaining issue, the NHL will be looking for a concession. So if the players accept continuing escrow in order to play in the Olympics, they remained saddled with something they hate. If they sacrifice the Olympics, then they look like the party that scuttled Olympic participation.
“To have the best on best in the Olympics in Beijing, this is my mission to do it, to make this happen, but the problem is dollars,” Fasel said, rubbing his fingers together. “The answer is (in collective bargaining). How big will the pressure be from the (NHL)PA? I would say the solution is in the hands of the players because without the players, what do we do? If they want to come to the Games, they have to say so.”
Fasel said he planned to speak with NHLPA executive director Don Fehr on Wednesday at the World Junior Championship about that very matter. Fasel also said he believes NHL commissioner Gary Bettman “has a huge interest to go to (Beijing),” and he’d better be right. Because there’s no way the NHL is going to pay $15 million in insurance and travel costs for the privilege to play in the Games. And it’s clear the International Olympic Committee isn’t going to foot the bill. The IIHF was willing to cover the costs for Pyeongchang, but the NHL still balked at participating.
Clearly, there is still a ton of work to do. Fasel said the IIHF will pay about $3 million in travel and insurance costs for Pyeongchang – which breaks down to about $250,000 per team and $10,000 per player – but the players involved have much smaller contracts. And even though it was prepared to pay for Pyeongchang, Fasel said the IIHF will not be in a similar position for Beijing.
“The IIHF cannot afford for 2022 the $15 million to cover the expenses of transportation and insurance,” Fasel said. “We will not be able to do it. The deal we negotiated before will not work for 2022.”
Fasel clearly knows the IIHF is in a difficult spot here. Not having NHL players at the Olympics is not going to grow the game globally. But he knows the NHL is holding all the leverage here and will make the decision to go to Beijing based on opportunity cost factors, two of which are getting concession from the players and having its expenses paid. Fasel has said that failing that, federations have batted around the idea of adopting the FIFA model of Olympic participation, which provides for an under-23 tournament. “I know the IOC is not happy about that,” Fasel said. That would still diminish the tournament, however, given the fact that the best under-23 players in the world are either playing in the NHL or under contract to an NHL team. Fasel also did mention an under-20 tournament, but that would kill the golden goose that is the World Junior Championship.
So it may be well and good for Fasel to boldly claim it’s his mission to get this done. But it may very well be Mission Impossible.
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