A report by TSN has sparked rumours that the NHL is considering sending NHL players to China for the 2022 Olympics if they are awarded to Beijing this July, after years of speculation that the NHL would not send players to the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, Korea.
The report, which quotes Longmou Li, an executive with China’s state broadcaster CCTV, as verifying discussions with NHL officials to field their players for the men’s hockey tournament, has been denied by the NHL, but certainly does bring up some interesting considerations, as it is known that the league has been looking to break into the world’s largest population for some time. NHL games are now regularly shown on CCTV, and the number of homegrown players and rinks is increasing year by year.
However, this would mark a major contradiction to the likely scenario that the NHL will not go to Pyeongchang, after hesitation from the NHL over the time difference affecting viewing audiences in North America and Europe, as well as a lack of interest in the sport in Korea, whose winter sport interests are typically in the figure or speed skating events. Especially with the return of the World Cup Of Hockey in 2016, it seemed that NHL participation with the Olympics was doomed, with the World Cup set to take its place.
Which makes the Beijing question all the more interesting – if lack of local interest and an Asian time zone were the major issues plaguing the NHL’s participation, how is Beijing that different from Korea? Certainly the population to introduce the game to is far larger in Beijing, but the Olympics in nearby Korea can certainly be promoted in China to drum up interest in ice hockey. Also, considering the NHL said the intention was for the World Cup to return every four years, would major pro international tournaments (with their ever-increasing insurance costs being picked up by the NHL) be held both in 2020 and 2022?
With the IOC Congress awarding the 2022 Winter Games on 31 July in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, it will be fascinating to see how things pan out, particularly if Beijing is awarded the Games, as they are seen as the front-runner ahead of the other contender in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Ideally the hope for hockey fans everywhere is to showcase the best international talent as much as possible, but time will tell as non-traditional hockey nations start to host the Olympic Games once again.