IOC leads condemnation of NHL's 2018 snub

IOC president Thomas Bach accused the NHL of being greedy in refusing to participate in the 2018 Olympic Games

The IOC and hockey stars past and present condemned the National Hockey League on Tuesday, a day after it said it would not let its players compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The highly contentious decision likely means many top players, such as Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who sparked Canada to gold in 2010 and 2014, will not play at the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

NHL clubs had reportedly pressed for financial compensation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in return for suspending its season for three weeks in February. But the IOC said it could not go beyond the travel and insurance compensation offered for previous Winter Games.

IOC president Thomas Bach accused the NHL of being greedy.

"I feel sorry for the athletes because for them it must be a great disappointment," said Bach, speaking at the SportAccord convention in Aarhus, Denmark.

"Obviously they wanted more money or whatever, we do not know what they really wanted."

"The IOC policy cannot be there to give more money, finances, to a commercially orientated owner of a club in a national league," he added.

"For us, the players are always welcome. If any NHL player wants to join his Olympic team, then he is most welcome."

The NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) and top players including New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who won Olympic gold in 2006 with Sweden, condemned the NHL move.

Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin says he will take part in the Games for Russia no matter what his team says.

More than 30 Russians play in the NHL including the likes of Ovechkin, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Radulov of Montreal and Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Russia's hockey coach Oleg Znarok shrugged off the controversy and hinted Russian players in the NHL would rebel.

"Taking into consideration the NHL decision, it doesn't mean we will refuse completely to draw in the players from this league," Znarok told R-Sport agency, adding: "The NHL decision will in no way affect the Russian team's preparations for the Olympics.

"We had two plans from the very beginning. One of them provided the possibility that the NHL players would not come to the Olympics."

- 'Blow to Olympics' -

The NHL said on Monday that it will not shut down its regular season to allow players to compete in Pyeongchang.

The NHL sent players to the past five Winter Olympics, starting with the Nagano Games in 1998, interrupting the season to do so.

But the break was unpopular with club owners and the league said attempts to negotiate a deal with other interested parties, including the IOC, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the NHLPA had failed.

There was shock at the move in the Czech Republic.

Vladimir Ruzicka, captain of the 1998 team that won gold in Nagano, told Czech News Agency: "I am surprised because ice hockey added great value to the Olympics.

"Since the first time in Nagano in 1998 it has always been a perfect tournament, so it’s a shame.

"On the other hand, I understand that if you suspend the NHL for almost three weeks club owners lose profits.

"But it doesn't benefit the game. The Olympics were the best way of promoting hockey on the planet because everyone watches the Olympics."

Jiri Slegr, who scored the Czech Republic's only goal in their 1-1 semi-final draw with a Wayne Gretzky-led Canada at Nagano, said: "It's the fans who will be disappointed the most.

"I wouldn't be surprised if things changed and the NHL players played at the Olympics next year."