(ATR) Ice hockey federation president Rene Fasel says “it is 100 percent important for the game of hockey” to once again showcase the world’s premier National Hockey League stars on the Olympic stage in Beijing 2022.
Ice Hockey Federation chief René Fasel addresses media in Bratislava. (ATR)
However, he says that if negotiations are delayed significantly due to the National Hockey League’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), it will be “very difficult” to organize.
Fasel informs that the timing of CBA negotiations for a new contract between the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) and the North American league will significantly influence progress towards an Olympic deal.
“I had a short discussion with [NHLPA Executive Director] Don Fehr yesterday,” said Fasel, addressing reporters before world championship semifinal contests Saturday in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Ideally, the IIHF would like to have an agreement in place as soon as possible, but he refused to set a deadline. National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman and the league’s owners chose not to send their elite players to PyeongChang 2018, the first Olympic Games without the pros since 1994.
“I know that Gary Bettman hates deadlines, but on the other side we have to prepare the Games,” Fasel said, responding to a question from Around the Rings
. “We’ve thought about putting a deadline, maybe September 2020.
“If we have the biggest stage that we can have with the Olympics, we should show our product on the highest level,” he said
“I would say that in September we will know more about the participation of NHL players in Beijing,” he said.
Finland celebrates its first world title since 2011 after defeating Canada on Sunday night. (ATR)
Fasel spoke of the importance of 119 NHL players coming to Slovakia for the world championship, which concluded on Sunday night as Finland completed a stunning run, eliminating Sweden and Russia before defeating Canada 3-1 in the final to win its first world title since 2011.
“I’m literally very proud that they come, because they don’t ask for money,” Fasel said. “They come here because they want to represent their countries and they want to celebrate the end of the season in a very nice way.”
The NHL’s current CBA, a 10-year agreement, expires after the 2021-22 season. But without an extension in place, each side would have to determine in September whether to trigger their respective re-opener options, which then would cause the CBA to terminate in September 2020.
Fasel noted that if a CBA is in place in September 2020, Olympic discussions could proceed during the NHL season, 16 months prior to the Beijing Games. If a new CBA is signed at a later date and Olympic negotiations are on hold until six or seven months before the Olympics, he said it will be “very difficult” to organize.
He professes that Asia is an enormous untapped market for the sport to develop and grow. It was decided at an IIHF council meeting in Slovakia that the world’s eight top-ranked hockey nations, and China, will receive automatic berths into the 2022 Olympic tournament. China is currently ranked 33rd in the world ice hockey rankings.
Fasel presents gold medals to team Finland. (ATR)
“If they want to be competitive they will need Chinese heritage players coming from overseas,” Fasel said. “I think they will be competitive, especially on the women’s side.
“We are not so strong – we have Japan and Korea – but if we can be sustainable after the Games of Beijing, it will be a huge potential to really develop and bring the best game in the world, ice hockey, to Asia,” he said.
The IIHF council also decided on Friday to award the 2025 world championships to Sweden. The country could be hosting two major hockey tournaments within months of each other should Stockholm-Åre win the right to host the 2026 Olympics. The IOC is set to decide between the Swedish bid and one from Milan-Cortina next month in Lausanne.
Fasel is presiding over his penultimate world championship, having previously announced that he will not run for re-election next year as IIHF president.
“I think it’s my duty to quit after 26 years,” said the veteran Swiss hockey chief and IOC member. “There are young people around me, there is a change of generations.
“For sure, I can run again. I will be 70 next year, so I still have some energy. I will stay in ice hockey for sure, but it’s good timing.
“It’s a new type of good governance and we have a very good dynamic, family in the congress. I hope we can keep that and the federation can go forward in the same way.”
Written and reported by Brian Pinelli in Bratislava, Slovakia
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