Road To The Olympic Games

Opinion

NHL, IOC share blame for Olympics debacle

By refusing to get a deal done that would send the world's best hockey players to the 2018 Olympics, both the NHL and the IOC (again) chose business over the good of sport, writes Scott Russell.

A slap in the face to fans as business, again, trumps sport

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, left, and IOC president Thomas Bach couldn't, or wouldn't, get a deal done to get the world's best hockey players to the 2018 Olympics. (The Canadian Press/The Associated Press)

If you love hockey and the Olympics, the news that the NHL has made the decision not to go to Pyeongchang next year is a kick in the teeth. 

Beyond that, it's a slap in the face, a wake-up call, a reality check and the cold, hard truth.

It's all of those things and, more than anything else, it's a bitter pill for all fans of sport to swallow.

We heard the news just as we were getting off the plane from Helsinki and the World Figure Skating Championships, and it was a shocker to say the least. 

"It's a shame," said Canadian skating legend Brian Orser, a two-time Olympic medalist and the coach of the current Olympic men's champion, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. "Just goes to show, to them, the business is more important than the sport."

By "them," Orser was referring to the NHL and its board of governors, who send their hard-ass communiqués through commissioner Gary Bettman because he's willing to take the heat for their intransigence under the guise of doing what's best for the game.

Enter the bad guys in this whole sordid affair.

But there are more villains, and others are not without blame.

Namely, the International Olympic Committee, which continues to bring the ideals of the movement into question. 

The league released a statement on Monday afternoon saying it "considers the matter officially closed." 6:27

IOC wouldn't find a way

When asked point blank in Helsinki about the NHL's involvement in South Korea, IOC president Thomas Bach passed the buck to Rene Fasel and the International Ice Hockey Federation.

"That is between the federation and the NHL. We are happy to accommodate a positive result at any given time," Bach shrugged. "The international federation has committed itself to take over the costs for travel and insurance of the players. This is what happened in the last five Olympic Games, so I hope that this time it works."

It didn't work, because the NHL, its conditions met, refused to kiss the ring of the IOC. They won't shut down the league and interrupt the schedule because, they say, it's a hardship for the league and its owners.

For its part, the IOC refused to make a peace offering and explore a compromise.

For the good of the Olympic Winter Games, it couldn't and wouldn't find a way to accommodate the NHL and keep them in the fold. It steadfastly neglected to apply itself to the ideal of inclusion that it's supposed to be promoting.

Both parties failed to find good will in their hearts.

Kurri 'sad for the players'

While this ridiculous squabble has distracted the fans of all winter sport, the athletes themselves continue to chase the dream.

Listen to what Olympic and world champion ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir had to say about the prospect of competing at another Olympic Games in Pyeongchang after deciding last year to return to the sport.

"It's the beauty of coming back. We still have lots of lessons to learn and a chance to get better," Moir offered.

"When we imagined ourselves sitting at home watching the Pyeongchang Olympics, it didn't sit well," Virtue said.

"There's something so incredibly special about being a part of Team Canada and being surrounded by the best athletes in the world. It's been the driving force of the comeback and the motivation that gets us to the rink every single day."

Similarly, Jari Kurri, an NHL legend, Hockey Hall of Famer and winner of five Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers, can't fathom the roadblock that is keeping the top hockey players out of the next Olympics.

The NHL's decision to not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics means stars like Sidney Crosby and Henrik Lundqvist won't get to represent their countries. 0:42

Kurri is one of the first Finnish-born players to make an impact in the NHL. He's also a two-time Olympian, having played at Lake Placid in 1980 and Nagano in 1998 when the NHL made its Olympic debut.

That year, Kurri helped his team to the bronze medal as they defeated his old teammate Wayne Gretzky. Kurri went on to serve six years on the IOC's Athletes' Commission.

Kurri has also managed Finland's national team program and now oversees the hockey operations of Helsinki's professional club, Jokerit, which competes in the KHL.

"It's a little bit sad," Kurri sighed when reflecting on the dispute between the NHL and IOC.  

"I'm sad for the players. Every player here dreams of playing in the Olympics. And everyone wants to see the best play the best. All the best athletes are there from all the sports. The Olympics are like a big family."

Greed and power win out

But for now, the family can't get its act together.

This is a done deal — or, rather, a deal that didn't get done.

Make no mistake, the Olympics will survive this and every qualified country will find players who can't wait to suit up and wear their national colours.

But the best hockey players in the world won't be there on the world's biggest stage, showcasing the sport to an enormous international audience.

Why?

It's simple. It's because this is all about further examples of greed, power and petty jealously conspiring to yet again poison the essence of sport.

It's bad for the fans.  

It's bad for the players.  

It's bad for the NHL.  

It's bad for the Olympics.

It means the feud is more important than the family.

The bottom line is stark reality.

The bad guys stole the best hockey from all of us at the Olympics.

And it's a crying shame.

About the Author

Scott Russell

Scott Russell has worked for the CBC for more than 30 years and covered 14 editions of the Olympics. He is a winner of the Gemini Award, Canadian Screen Award and CBC President's Award. Scott is the host of Olympic Games Prime Time and the co-Host with Andi Petrillo of Road to the Olympic Games. He is also the author of three books: The Rink, Ice-Time and Open House."

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