National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed Wednesday that its superstar players will not compete at February's Beijing Winter Olympics due to Covid-19 disruptions.
The league paused its season on Wednesday after 50 games had been postponed due to Covid-19 outbreaks, with plans to now reschedule those contests during the February 6-22 window of the Games in China.
"The National Hockey League respects and admires the desire of NHL Players to represent their countries and participate in a 'best on best' tournament," Bettman said in a statement Wednesday.
"Accordingly, we have waited as long as possible to make this decision while exploring every available option to enable our players to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
"Unfortunately, given the profound disruption to the NHL's regular-season schedule caused by recent Covid-related events -- 50 games already have been postponed through December 23 -- Olympic participation is no longer feasible."
NHL elite global talent began playing at the Olympics in Nagano, Japan in 1998, with the league shutting down to allow players to represent their homelands, and NHL players last competed at the Olympics in 2014 at Sochi, Russia.
The league decided not to send players to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics but had agreed to a deal with the players union for competing at Beiing and in the 2026 Winter Olympics.
"We certainly acknowledge and appreciate the efforts made by the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the Beijing Organizing Committee to host NHL players," Bettman said.
"But current circumstances have made it impossible for us to proceed despite everyone's best efforts. We look forward to Olympic participation in 2026."
The league plans to have players return to clubs on Sunday to resume the season after that, with negative Covid-19 tests required for access to facilities as the NHL continues to follow Covid-19 health and safety protocols.
"Our focus and goal have been and must remain to responsibly and safely complete the entirety of the NHL regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs in a timely manner," Bettman said.
"Therefore, with stringent health protocols once again in place, we will begin utilizing available dates during the Feb. 6-22 window (originally contemplated to accommodate Olympic participation) to reschedule games that have been, or may yet be, postponed." (AFP)