PYEONGCHANG/SEOUL, Oct. 27 (Korea Bizwire) – While the world’s top hockey players enjoy competing at the Winter Games, they won’t necessarily want to pay to travel to South Korea for the next Olympics, a visiting official of the sport said Thursday.
Mathieu Schneider, special assistant to the executive director of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA), was part of the group that completed its two-day visit to hockey facilities in PyeongChang, the host of the 2018 Winter Games some 180 kilometers east of Seoul. The delegation also included representatives from the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF).
Their tour was set up to help determine the participation of NHL players in the first Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Schneider told reporters Thursday “the biggest obstacle” is who will shoulder the expenses, such as transportation, insurance and accommodations, for some 150 NHL players if they do decide to compete here.
The NHL and its club owners want the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the IIHF to cover them. The NHL estimates the tab could reach several million dollars.
The IOC and the IIHF have funded those “out-of-pocket” costs over the past five Olympics — NHL players first competed at the 1998 Nagano Winter Games. But NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman once noted IOC President Thomas Bach’s unwillingness to offer subsidies to any particular sport.
“I understand from the IOC’s perspective that they don’t want to pay players to come, but at the same time, players don’t necessarily want to pay to come to the Olympics as well,” Schneider said. “It’s certainly not something that can’t be overcome. We’re optimistic that it will all work out in the end. Players love playing in the Olympics. That’s why we’ve participated in the last five Olympics.”
Another challenge, Schneider pointed out, is the league’s scheduling. Because the Winter Games typically take place in February, they have fallen smack in the middle of previous NHL seasons and have forced the league to halt play. It’s also around the time when teams are jostling for playoff positions, and losing key players to injuries during the Olympics could be costly for contending clubs.
And Schneider, a former All-Star defenseman and Stanley Cup champion, said the players won’t be simply taking a break to come to the Olympics, given the intensity of the tournament.
“It’s the level of competition that is one step above what you see in the NHL on a night-to-night basis, because it’s the top players from around the world,” he said. “After the Olympic Games are over, to go back and start again at a very high level of competition at the most important time of the season going into the playoffs, it’s very challenging from the point of view.”
Lynn White, group vice president of international strategy for the NHL, said PyeongChang organizers appear to be “well ahead of schedule with respect to the preparations for the Olympic Games.” Schneider compared PyeongChang favorably to Sochi, the Russian host of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“I think they’re much further ahead at this point than Sochi, roughly a little over a year out (from the Olympics),” Schneider said. “I think we’re very impressed with the progress and the facilities that we’ve seen. I think everyone is very dedicated to having a top-notch event. We’d expect nothing less coming here. I’d anticipate that early in the new year, we should have a decision.”