TORONTO – One of the most anticipated appearances at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit took place Wednesday afternoon at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Toronto with a Q & A between NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and TSN’s Pierre McGuire.
Of course, the first question – the “elephant in the room” as McGuire described – was NHL participation at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“It fascinates me to see all the commentary that says I’m against going to the Olympics,” Bettman began. “We’ve gone to the last four Olympics during my time as commissioner. I think the commotion is that we haven’t made a decision yet for Sochi, but we don’t feel that’s big a deal.”
As for the perceived success of the Vancouver Olympics as a steppingstone for Sochi, Bettman offered a guarded opinion. “Going to the Olympics is a mixed bag,” he explained. “It can be very good, but there can be problems. On balance, Vancouver was a good experience. It wasn’t all good, but it was good.”
Bettman added to the speculation, both pro and con, by making a couple of other salient issues public. “We are not under any time pressure to make a decision. The IOC hasn’t even assigned their broadcasting rights for Sochi. For instance, I have been told that broadcasters will make two bids, one based on NHL participation and another without. That will make for an interesting discussion with our Board of Governors.”
Indeed, it is with the league’s 30 governors that the decision of whether or not to participate in Sochi will be made. “There is a mixed sentiment among the clubs,” Bettman revealed. “Some clubs think it’s a terrible idea, and some think it’s very important. The decision to go will also have to be made with the Players’ Association.”
Contrary to the opinion of Jamie Langenbrunner, who suggested the players owe it to the fans to go to the Olympics, Bettman suggested it wasn’t so simple. “It might surprise some people to know,” he said, “that not all fans are in favour of NHL players going to the Olympics. Some worry about how it will affect their NHL team.”
On the national front, Bettman states emphatically and unequivocally that, “we’re coming off an absolutely outstanding season in the NHL... and we are pleased to be opening our 2010-11 season in Europe. With about 25 percent of our players coming from outside North America, we wanted fans of those players and in those countries to see our game. We believe it will help develop the game in those countries.”
Good news on the NHL front, to be sure, but for anyone hoping to hear definitive news about NHL participation in the Olympics, well, the wait is on.