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For many hockey fans Olympic competition represents the pinnacle of the sport, with the best players from Canada, Russia, United States, Sweden and more battling it out for the gold. To make that happen, though, said best players -- many of whom play in the National Hockey League -- have to be released from their day jobs with their club teams in order to participate.
Gary Bettman, commissioner of the NHL, says there are a number of complications the league has to consider before allowing players to participate.
"There are a lot of people who don’t think it makes sense and it’s not an easy decision," said Bettman in an interview for George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. "We wind up breaking up the flow of our season at a time when the NFL goes away so it’s really our time. It breaks the momentum. It breaks the flow and continuity. But even more than that, from a competitive standpoint, all the players are going to go on a two-week vacation and come back rested and other NHL teams will send six, 10, 12 players who may come back a little more tired and a little banged up. Weigh that against going to the Olympics -- which is a big deal -- but when you do it in a time zone [for the 2014 Sochi Olympics] which is nine hours ahead of the east coast of North America and you’re looking at games at four in the morning until two in the afternoon. That’s not exactly prime time exposure."
When the Winter Olympics have been held in North America it's been an easier decision to allow NHL players to participate, says Bettman.
"When we were in Vancouver? Absolutely great. Couldn’t have been better. Salt Lake City? Terrific," he said. "But when you’re in other time zones in other places, you don’t get quite as much attention, you don’t get quite as much visibility for the game and you give up a lot to do it. It’s always a balancing act and when you’re outside of North America, the balance is harder to strike. Having said that, our players love representing their countries. Our sport probably has the best history and tradition of being engaged in international competition. So that’s why we go on balance. But it’s not like, 'Oh this is great, there’s no downside to it.'"
George's full interview with Gary Bettman airs on Thursday, Oct. 3 at 7 pm.