Sure there were a lot of negatives including having to shut down the NHL for two weeks, but that did not stop the NHL before. Since 1998 the NHL has participated in the Olympics despite numerous criticisms, which they list in two articles on their website. But strip away everything and it comes down to PyeonChang, South Korea not being “big”, “sexy”, or “glamorous” enough for American eyes and ears.
According to the polls, 73% American NHL fans and 53% Canadian fans were against playing in the Olympics. It smacks of the usual contempt of North American sports fans (much more in the United States than in Canada) for foreigners and their important sports. Though unsaid, such actions as this pull-out from the Olympics means, “We only like international sports so long as we win and we get big television ratings”. And in “unglamorous” PyeongChang with its awkward time schedule, no big television ratings are likely to occur.
But it would not surprise me to see the NHL back in the games in 2022 when they will be held in Beijing, China, the biggest market in the world that the United States would love to exploit. Small town South Korea (which is a huge market in itself) is not considered important enough by American capitalists. The NHL of course continues to protest that it will do its best to promote the growth of hockey around the world. At their website, they haul out their haloed future good deeds. The Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings will play preseason games in China (not small time South Korea), and Ottawa and Colorado will play regular season games in Stockholm. That still does not hide the fact that since the Canada-USSR match of 1972, the NHL has done virtually nothing to increase the quality of hockey outside of the “traditional big 7” countries. The world is still waiting for Germany, Denmark, China, and France among too many others to win an Olympic medal, a World Junior Championship, and a tournament like last September’s World Cup.
But this shameful withdrawal is simply part of the overall contempt by Americans for foreigners that has been growing steadily since the 1960s when the United States assumed world leadership. The NFL makes little attempt to hide its attitude for people who live outside the United States, charging exploitative ticket prices for Buffalo Bills games in Toronto which caused the games to be about half full, and then sending the worst games of the season, between bottom placed teams that have no chance of selling out in America to London for the British to digest. Even more laughable is the American attitude to the World Baseball Classic, started to promote the game of baseball around the world. Most Americans do not take the tournament seriously, pretending that it is minor league. At least, Canada when it plays hockey internationally shows respect for the tournaments and wins medals. But the United States has yet to collect even a bronze medal at the World Baseball Classic, never mind win the tournament. And Americans come up with phony excuses like, “We didn’t send our best players”. They continue to believe the fiction that players who play in Major League Baseball for the “World” Series (Which is only remotely a tiny morsel of being international when the Toronto Blue Jays play for the championship) are the best in the world when there is evidence to believe that maybe the majority of the best players of the world do not play in its league. At least the NHL can do better than that. Yet Americans are willing to pay top dollar for a product that may only be second best.
Can you imagine what would happen to the World Cup of soccer if countries decided to step in and out of it when it suits them? It would lose its prestige and importance. But the NHL has no such feelings and beliefs. This is an American business decision and the Olympics cannot get in the way. In 1860, when the American Civil War loomed, the winning candidate would declare that no American state on its own mere whim can lawfully get out of the Union. But this is exactly what the NHL is doing with the Olympics.
If there is any criticism and outrage, Americans will just shrug it off. And if there are any tears and wounds to be healed, you know what they will do? All you readers who guessed that the Yanks will pull out the tapes of the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” to watch again to give them a sense of pride, superiority, and to hide a guilty conscience are correct. And maybe they’ll bring back those wonderful teams, the Mighty Ducks (who have yet to play a Canadian hockey team) and the Bad News Bears to defend America from the evil foreigners.
The most effective opposition may come from within. It is well known that many players from the NHL want to play in the Olympics and will try to find a way to make it happen. The NHLPA has already issued a statement regretting the decision and putting the sole blame on the NHL alone. It will be interesting to see what will happen, how many players will rebel. Those who go certainly are not afraid of getting injured which is one of the main reasons the NHL claims it is not playing any more.
How can the NHL expect anybody outside of North America to take its just-revived World Cup seriously when it shows no respect for the Olympic Games? They claim that they want international hockey to grow but decisions like this are not going to help. There has to be something internationally in hockey that is bigger than the national championships. That is the basis of the importance of the World Cup in soccer. Curling recognizes this and the growth of high quality curling around the world has been the result. But in international hockey there are too many candidates (including the NHL) claiming superiority, no real direction for the growth of international hockey, and the game suffers as a result. It is international hockey anarchy, every “important body” like the rival Roman generals who weakened and caused the downfall of the Roman Empire, in it for himself.
Put the Olympic Games in “important” Asian countries like China and Japan and the NHL will show some grudging interest. Put them in traditional “big 7” European countries, like Russia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Sweden, and Finland, and the NHL will be forced to go (even in awkward time Sochi) out of respect for its European players, coaches, scouts, and management. Best of all put them in North American cities where they will get big television ratings and the NHL will beg to come in. But in “unknown” PyeongChang, South Korea, unless the NHL had some mythical parent frowning and screaming in a harsh voice with a pointed finger to the door, the word “Go”, all it will do is turn its tail and slink quietly away. After all, it is a business decision.