NHL Making A Comeback To The Olympics? The Agreement That Is In The Works.
By: Jess Shaw
Back in 2017, the NHL decided to forbid its players to participate in the Olympic games. There were two reasons for this decision. First, there was a series of disputes between the NHL and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over the costs incurred by NHL athletes, and who would cover them. Typically, the IOC had paid for travel, insurance, accommodations, and other costs for the NHL players, but refused to continue to do this for 2018. Secondly, since participation in the Olympics occurs during the NHL season, in years past the NHL would take a three-week break during the season to accommodate the players who were competing. Many owners felt strained by the break because it took away their best players and risked them getting injured right in the middle of the season.
At the time, the decision to pull out of the Olympics upset some NHL players, but now they once again may be able to compete. When the decision was made in 2017, New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist tweeted; "Disappointing news, (the NHL) won't be part of the Olympics 2018. A huge opportunity to market the game at the biggest stage is wasted. But most of all, disappointing for all the players that can't be part of the most special adventure in sports."
Now, things seem as if they will change. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement went into effect on July 10, 2020. This agreement included a path for a return to the Winter Olympics in 2022 and 2026. Participation in the games is pending on an agreement between the NHL, NHL Players' Association, IOC, and International Ice Hockey Federation.The main issue that will hold up this agreement from being reached may be if the IOC refuses to pay for the NHL players’ expenses. International Ice Hockey Federation Chief, René Fasel is optimistic about the news and hopes a deal can be agreed upon. Fasel remarked, “There are a lot of challenges. But I think in principle, I would say the news that that's in the CBA, for me and especially international hockey, is very good news.” NHL players are also excited, Vancouver Canucks forward Bo Horvat stated “I think that's a big thing that we wanted, not only for ourselves to represent our country, but to grow the game. I think this is great to negotiate that and be able to play in the Olympics coming up. It's great for hockey, it's great for the fans, and it's great for us as players to represent our countries, so we're excited about it.”
While there is great excitement following this news, the two issues that plagued the 2018 decision not to compete are still on players’ minds. However, there is some excitement for players who want to represent their countries in the Olympics. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement clears up the previous issue of taking a three-week break to accommodate the athletes participating. Section 16.5(a) states, league scheduled off-days or breaks (e.g., All-Star break, Holidays, Olympics) shall count as a day off. Furthermore, section 16.15 states, there will be no All-Star Game any year in which the NHL and NHLPA agree to participate in an international tournament which includes the Winter Olympics. Both of these new amendments to the agreement amend the participation issue which prevented players from going to the 2018 Olympics. It was wise to add these amendments to the new agreement because they are practical solutions to the problems which created turmoil.
At this point, issues that remain are costs of travel, insurance, and accommodations for the NHL players. Historically, the IOC has paid for the NHL expenses since 1998. However, it is unclear whether the IOC will pay in the future, and sadly, this may be a dealbreaker if the IOC declines to pay for these expenses. The travel costs to PyeongChang for the 2018 Olympics which the IOC refused to pay, were projected to be $15 million. The Olympics are mainly privately financed by the IOC which derives from The Olympic Partner program and the sale of broadcasting rights. For the 2022 Winter Olympics, the IOC is investing $880 million to support the logistics and success of the games.
As of now, there is no indicator of what the cost of travel for the 2022 or 2026 games would be if NHL players participate. If the IOC refuses to pay the expenses, it seems unlikely that the NHL would be allowed to use league funds to send players to the Olympics based on past precedent and the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. The NHL already has provisions in place for the players’ expenses while they play in the league, and it is unlikely that these provisions would extend to the Olympic.
Hopefully, in the coming months the NHL, NHL Players' Association, IOC, and International Ice Hockey Federation will discuss the logistics of the operation. In January of 2020, the International Ice Hockey Federation gave the NHL a deadline of late August 2020 to decide whether players would participate in the 2022 Olympics. It is unclear if the deadline still applies. The deadline was set for August 2020 because that was when the Olympic men’s hockey tournament would decide the last three qualifying nations for the Winter Games. As a result of COVID-19 the International Ice Hockey Federation moved the qualifying tournament to August 2021. Since the tournament was moved back, that could also mean that the deadline for the NHL to make their decision could have been moved. Overall, there is optimistic news that NHL players may once again participate in the Olympics, but the logistics are not entirely clear.
Jess is a rising 2L at New York Law School.
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