NHL Olympics participation stirs COVID concerns – NHL.com

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The NHL Players’ Association acknowledged uncertainty about participation in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, one day after NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said it would be “a players decision.”
“We’re waiting on an awful lot of information to come from the IOC and the Chinese,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr told ESPN on Saturday. “We still don’t know what the COVID situation will be as we get closer.”
A report from the Toronto Star said the International Olympic Committee provided new COVID-19 protocol information to athletes. A possible quarantine of up to five weeks following a positive test for the coronavirus was part of that information.
According to ESPN, “the [NHL] players’ decision on participation rests on what they hear from the IOC regarding COVID protocols, and whether the bubble in Beijing and the protocols for quarantine if they test positive are worth the trouble.”
“I hope when the clarity comes, it resolves that uncertainty,” Fehr said. “And if it doesn’t, then we’ll have to see what comes next,” which would be “a continuing series of ongoing discussions with the players who would be expected to participate.”
Speaking at the NHL Board of Governors meeting in Manalapan, Florida, on Friday, Commissioner Bettman said of Olympic participation, “In good faith, we made a promise to the players, and ultimately this is going to have to be a players decision.”
The NHL can withdraw on its own if COVID-19 disruptions force its games to be rescheduled during the Olympic window. The NHL is scheduled to break from Feb. 3-22 for the 2022 Honda All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas and the 2022 Olympics.
There is no deadline for withdrawal from the Olympics, though there would be financial costs after Jan. 10, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.
NHL players participated in five Olympics from 1998-2014 but not in the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. The NHL position has been that Olympic participation disrupts the NHL season, particularly when not held in North America.
Commissioner Bettman said NHL concerns about the Olympics have “only been magnified” by COVID-19.
“We have concerns, and we’ve expressed those to the Players’ Association, and we’ve seen that a number of players are now expressing concerns,” Commissioner Bettman said. “We’ll have to see how this ultimately plays out, but there are a number of open issues, and I know the Players’ Association has concerns about them. But ultimately, we will honor [the agreement], as we promised the players we would subject to the scheduling caveat, to move forward and let them play if that’s really want they want to do. …
“The players for the most part seem to continue to be saying they want to go. I don’t think that this is going to be the ideal Olympic experience in terms of the lockdowns in the Olympic Village and everything else that’s going on. But again, we made a promise to the players, and [we’re] going to the best of our ability adhere to it, understanding that there may be … consequences nobody’s going to like.”
When the NHL and the NHLPA extended the collective bargaining agreement last year through the 2025-26 season, they agreed to go to the 2022 Beijing Olympics and 2026 Milano Cortina Olympics if they could reach an agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation.
Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner was the first player to say he declined an invitation to play in these Olympics for mental health reasons in anticipation of strict protocols.
“There certainly hasn’t been a lot of players that have gone public,” Fehr told ESPN. “But I think it’s fair to say that the longer it stretches out, where we don’t have concrete answers to what happens over there in an unfortunate circumstance, then the more difficult it becomes.”
Sportsnet reported Saturday there would be a medical call between the NHL, NHLPA, IOC and IIHF on Sunday, and the Olympic handbook for athletes will be provided Tuesday.
Commissioner Bettman and Daly said the NHL has done a significant amount of work to deal with health and safety concerns in China.
“Obviously we’re not washing our hands of responsibility for taking care of our athletes when they’re there,” Daly said, “so that’s an important priority for us and we share that with the Players’ Association.”
Commissioner Bettman said, “Of course, we’re worried about and will be extraordinarily proactive in making sure the players are taken care of and are safe. It’s the decision where we’re being deferential because we made a commitment, but if the players decide to go, it’s going to have to be on terms where we and the Players’ Association are comfortable that the players can be well taken care of.”
NHL.com columnist Nicholas J. Cotsonika contributed to this report

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