Besides news about the daily games, what’s the news on the NHL’s website? It is said that the NHL’s participation in the next Winter Olympics in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea is in danger. At the latest NHL Board meeting, many club owners, voiced several grievances against the games of which there are some of legitimate merit. There is the problem of shutting down the NHL for two weeks and revising the schedule. There is the problem of insurance and injuries to players.
But these legitimate problems seem to be playing a minor role in the current dispute. The main grievance is said to be money; the Olympics do not “pay”. What the NHL (and American television) wants are Winter Olympic Games held in the United States or Canada which can bring in big ratings and dollars. The South Korean time zone is just too much out of range for their liking. They also want their rumps kissed by having the IOC pay for their insurance, travel and accommodations. The IOC is willing to do this just like before.
The NHL/American attitude seems to be that they can step in and step out of the Olympics or any other sports or cultural event anytime they feel like it. There is no firm commitment, no sense of duty, no sense of something “spiritually higher” than themselves. This is a business decision.
This is not the first time the Olympics have been used for other purposes instead of a sporting event. Usually the reason is politics. Hitler used the 1936 Olympics for propaganda and to prove racial superiority. There was the horrible Munich massacre in 1972. In 1980, the United States and other countries withdrew from the Moscow games to protest the USSR invasion of Afghanistan. Then the eastern block retaliated by withdrawing from the 1984 Los Angeles games. This time the reason is big business.
The NHL participated in the games at Sochi, Russia which were also out of North American time zones. But the NHL now has a sizeable number of Russians and Europeans playing on their rosters, so it would not have been very politic to not participate in Sochi. But South Korea can make no similar claim on the NHL and it is not big enough nor as important enough as a country like China in the NHL’s eyes. So there are less qualms about telling the South Koreans to stick it.
Even if the NHL formally does not participate there may be problems. Several players have made it known that they want to participate in the Olympics whether the NHL participates or not. It will be interesting to see what happens should that come to pass.
But the NHL and the United States attitude to the Olympics runs deeper than money. They just do not understand international competition unless they win. They are still willing to brag and boast about the “Miracle On Ice” victory over the USSR in 1980 when it suits them but overall their attitude is bad and belongs with myths and fairytales. And if they pull out of the 2018 games they will have no claim to brag and boast about anything.
In 1972, Canada had a similar attitude to international hockey competition, but its near defeat and the excitement caused by the close competition the USSR gave changed everything. The Canadian public was given a choice; should the NHL stay a North American only league or admit players no matter where they came from if they were good. They voiced overwhelming support for the latter policy. That is why the NHL is a multi-national league today. That is why there are still competitions between NHL professionals at the Olympics and the Canada/World Cup.
The American attitude seems to be that they exist on their own planet except when they win. When leagues like the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL were formed, their champions are somehow champions of the “world”, not merely the United States or Canada despite the fact that none of their teams play a single international game except when teams from Canada and the United States in the NHL play each other or when the Toronto Blue Jays/Raptors participate. The current dispute about whether to play in South Korea is simply reality intruding on American fairytales. “We want the best hockey players in the world to play at our South Korean Olympics.” “Huh? What? What’s all this about?”
But the NHL’s bad attitude is nothing compared to baseball and football. On other blogs I have written many articles about the American attitude to the World Baseball Classic, an event designed to encourage the growth of baseball internationally. Instead most Americans pour scorn and ridicule the event, even questioning whether the event itself and its result is legitimate. This cleverly covers up the truth that the United States – the country that invented baseball – has never come close to even winning even a third place medal. Yet Americans still believe they are the best baseball players in the world; that they are willing to pay top dollar to MLB because MLB says that its players are the best in the world in spite of all the evidence to the contrary; and that the champion of the “World Series” is the champion of the world despite not playing a single foreign opponent.
But the worst attitude belongs as usual to the arrogant NFL. They despise “foreigners” and make little attempt to hide their contempt. When the Buffalo Bills began playing some of their games in Toronto in order to cash in on its lucrative market, the ticket prices were set so high that even the most fanatical Ontario NFL fan had to say, “Wait a minute. We’re not suckers.” Another telling event are the games played in London, UK. Usually the competition is between bottom-of-the-barrel teams or mismatches, projected meaningless games, games that would not sell out on their native soil. Indianapolis against Jacksonville? New York Giants against Los Angeles? Usually a seller hauls out his best stuff when he wants to make a good impression. The NFL is saying, “Take this crap, you ignorant foreigners. That’s all you’re good for.” And Americans wonder why they are unpopular when they travel abroad.
Is this attitude merely reserved for lowly foreigners? Ask the good citizens of St. Louis how they liked having their football team taken and gift wrapped to Los Angeles simply because their market is not as big as the second largest market in the United States. So much for their loyal support (Oakland, Baltimore, Cleveland, Houston can all relate to this.) All the NFL had to do was expand by one or two teams and nobody would have been hurt. If this is the league’s attitude to its own citizens and supporters, it is no wonder that “foreigners” are given the dregs from the barrel.
Too bad the situation is not like soccer’s FIFA. Sure they like and want the American money and acclaim but they are quite prepared to live without the United States, being satisfied with the rest of the world. At last glance, there does not seem to be any attempt by FIFA to consult the United States or American television executives about which countries to award the World Cup to. Too bad the situation is not the same with the NHL and the current Olympics. What we will get whether good or bad is an American business decision.