NHL Players Association executive director Don Fehr said a lack of “concrete answers” from the Beijing organizing committee on COVID-19 protocols, including quarantine logistics, has led the uncertainty of players as to their participation in the Olympic Winter Games.
The NHL and NHLPA have collectively negotiated to allow players to participate in the 2022 and 2026 Games, but concerns about COVID protocols in Beijing, as well as other political and security considerations in China, left that participation in February. next in doubt.
At Friday’s board of governors meeting in Manalapan, Fla., NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said it “should ultimately be a decision by the players” as to whether they participate in the tournament. men’s hockey tournament at the Beijing Games.
Fehr said the decision was not entirely in the hands of the players. The NHL could withdraw from the Olympics if the 2021-22 regular season schedule is affected by COVID postponements and the Olympic break is needed to catch up with games. So far there have only been five postponements.
But Fehr said COVID and the Beijing Olympics are “a fluid situation” for players to watch. “We are waiting for a lot of information from the IOC and the Chinese. We still don’t know what the COVID situation will be as we get closer,” Fehr told ESPN.
Bettman said the players have doubts about playing in Beijing.
“We see that a number of players are now voicing their concerns as well, and we will have to see how it all plays out,” he said.
Fehr said he wasn’t sure what Bettman was referring to as the only audience to step down so far is Vegas Golden Knights goalie Robin Lehner, who said he would not play for the Swedish national team.
âThere certainly haven’t been a lot of players who have gone public,â Fehr said. “But I think it’s fair to say that the longer it goes on, where we don’t have concrete answers to what’s going on out there under an unfortunate circumstance, the harder it becomes.”
The IOC and the organizers of the Beijing Olympics are expected to send an updated athlete’s manual detailing current COVID protocols. In the meantime, there will soon be an appeal between the IOC, the International Ice Hockey Federation, the NHL and the NHLPA regarding medical information regarding the Winter Games.
The NHLPA has confirmed a report by Chris Johnston of the Toronto Star that the IOC has provided new information on the COVID protocol to athletes. Any player with a confirmed positive test must produce two negative tests 24 hours apart, or the quarantine period can last from 21 days to five weeks. Where this would happen and the possibility of a player leaving China rather than quarantining there are some of the issues the NHLPA is awaiting clarification on.
The quarantine period for a positive test in Beijing – especially if a player is symptomatic – is one of the players’ biggest concerns. Not only could they be stranded in China indefinitely, but they could also be financially affected by missing games and practices following the NHL’s Olympic break.
As part of the deal to go to the Games, “players who are running out of time due to COVID, linked to the Olympics, will not be paid under their standard player contracts,” the deputy commissioner told ESPN of the NHL, Bill Daly.
The IIHF will provide a $ 5 million fund for any lost wages for players competing in Olympic qualifiers or the Games. But after that pool dries up, players could lose their wages if they can’t play after the season restarts.
Fehr said it was “not clear” whether that would ultimately be the case.
âThe NHL said they didn’t think they would necessarily have to. We’re not sure we agree with that. But I am optimistic that this will never become an issue to be resolved, âhe said.
Daly said the issue “has been accepted and resolved.”
As for players who aren’t going to Beijing but have planned to take a break from the season – planning a family vacation and the like – there can still be an Olympic break even without the Olympics.
The NHL said Friday that several of its arenas have events booked during recess dates, although it has been suggested to keep them open in case the players do not make it to Beijing. There was speculation at the Board of Governors meeting that there could still be a hiatus in the season even if the NHL does not compete in the Olympics, given the issue of arena availability, but dates could. be changed.
When it comes to a final decision on Olympic participation, there is no deadline, although there has been a lot of attention on January 10, 2022. Daly said it was just about a deadline for âfinancial justification of costs at that point in time and timeâ if the NHL decides not to attend, but a decision to opt out can be made after that date.
Fehr hopes things will be clear by January 10. “I wish I could say by that date. But even if it’s yes, it depends that nothing changes [after that],” he said.
For now, the players’ decision to participate is based on what they hear from the IOC regarding the COVID protocols, and whether the “bubble” in Beijing and the quarantine protocols if they are positive are worth it.
âHopefully when the clarity comes it resolves that uncertainty. And if it doesn’t, we’ll have to see what comes next,â Fehr said.
What comes next at this point, he said, is “an ongoing series of discussions going on with which players should participate,” although he does not confirm whether there would be a formal vote.