NhL errs in bar­ring play­ers from olympics

North Bay Nugget - - OPINION - Dick Pound Dick Pound is the se­nior ac­tive mem­ber of the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee and a for­mer pres­i­dent of the Cana­dian Olympic Com­mit­tee.

Canada has, per­haps, a unique per­spec­tive on ice hockey.

if we did not in­vent the game, we cer­tainly con­trib­uted to its de­vel­op­ment into a global sport. We fielded two of the orig­i­nal six teams in the Na­tional hockey League and have con­tin­ued to be im­por­tant in the North amer­i­can con­text of the NhL. our men’s team has won the last two olympic tour­na­ments and our women have won the last four. We have hosted two edi­tions of the olympic Win­ter games and are in the process of due dili­gence re­gard­ing a bid for a third oc­ca­sion in 2026.

Canada led the fight against the “sha­ma­teurism” that had de­vel­oped in hockey dur­ing the 1960s and 1970s, when euro­pean play­ers who were clearly pro­fes­sional ath­letes par­tic­i­pated in the games, but NhL play­ers were not al­lowed to do so. even though hockey was our na­tional sport (and was close to be­ing our na­tional re­li­gion), we re­fused to par­tic­i­pate in the dis­crim­i­na­tory olympic hockey tour­na­ments.

even­tu­ally the rules were changed and NhL play­ers were wel­comed to the olympic games. the olympic tour­na­ments fi­nally be­came events in which the best play­ers in the world par­tic­i­pated. the game con­tin­ued to grow in­ter­na­tion­ally and the fan base be­came global.

Which brings us to the olympic Win­ter games next Fe­bru­ary in Pyeongchang, south Korea.

i ap­pre­ci­ate that the ob­jec­tive and pur­pose of the NhL, as a busi­ness, is to make money for the fran­chise own­ers and the play­ers. the “ne­go­ti­a­tions” re­gard­ing the par­tic­i­pa­tion of NhL play­ers in 2018 have fo­cused solely on mone­tary is­sues. the out­come has been that the NhL will not per­mit its play­ers to par­tic­i­pate in the olympic games.

Korea ap­pears to be a mar­ket cur­rently of lit­tle, if any, in­ter­est to the NhL. For the next games in 2022, how­ever, there ap­pears to be mas­sive in­ter­est in the huge Chi­nese mar­ket, and one would not have to be a prophet to pre­dict that the NhL will do what­ever it has to do in order to en­sure that its play­ers will be present in Bei­jing.

i get the eco­nomic ar­gu­ment. But i also be­lieve that there are at least two larger in­ter­ests in play.

the first is a re­spon­si­bil­ity for grow­ing and pro­mot­ing an ex­cit­ing game, which is im­por­tant for the sport, its play­ers and spec­ta­tors through­out the world. it is not suf­fi­cient for the NhL to be con­tent with pluck­ing the low-hang­ing fi­nan­cial fruit, but to fail to in­vest in the fu­ture of the game.

the sec­ond is­sue is the NhL’s de­ci­sion to ac­tively pro­hibit play­ers who want to rep­re­sent their coun­tries at the olympic games from do­ing so. aside from be­ing heavy-handed and an abuse of its eco­nomic power, it is dis­re­spect­ful to the rights and dreams of those play­ers.

While i can see that it might be le­git­i­mate to try to dis­cour­age such par­tic­i­pa­tion, i be­lieve it is (among other things) bad busi­ness to for­bid or pre­vent such in­di­vid­ual choices.

again, one does not have to be much of a prophet to pre­dict that the NhL Play­ers as­so­ci­a­tion will ex­act a sig­nif­i­cant price for the NhL’s in­tran­si­gence re­gard­ing the play­ers when the next col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment dis­cus­sions be­gin. that, too, is bad busi­ness for the NhL — all of its own making.

if the NhL, cit­ing eco­nomic losses, does not want to close the league for two weeks (once ev­ery four years), so be it. But it needs to be able to ac­com­mo­date those of its play­ers who want to rep­re­sent their coun­tries, and act for the good of the game, its play­ers and its fans. and for the NhL it­self.

Canada, and Cana­dian teams, should lead the way.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.