— Published 6 September 2021

The NHL has granted its approval


René Fasel, the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), can leave with peace of mind. The Swiss leader has achieved the most difficult thing of all: he has secured the presence of players from the NHL, the North American professional league, at the Beijing 2022 Winter Games. Long delayed and uncertain, an agreement was reached at the end of last week between the NHL, the IIHF and the players’ union. It provides for a 15-day break in the calendar for the next season, from February 7th-22nd, 2022, to allow the many NHL players selected for the Winter Games to join their national teams. However, the agreement leaves an option for the parties involved to back out if the sanitary crisis develops unfavourably. René Fasel agrees: “There is still a lot of work to be done. Nothing is set in stone”. Vaccination could be compulsory. And the qualified selections will have to submit an extended list of players likely to participate in the Games by October 15th. The final list that includes 23 names should be known in January 2022. This will be the sixth time NHL players compete in the Winter Games, following Nagano 1998, Salt Lake City 2002, Turin 2006, Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014. They were absent from the last edition of the Olympic tournament, held in PyeongChang in 2018. Franchise owners have agreed to release their players, but without much enthusiasm. They believe that the Olympic hiatus will stop players in their tracks and that the risk of injury can never be ruled out in a tournament of this intensity.  According to the chosen format, the competition will include three groups of four countries. Eight national teams (USA, Canada, Sweden, Finland, the Russian Olympic Committee, the Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland), plus the host country, China, were already assured of a spot. Denmark, Slovakia and Latvia secured the final three tickets in the qualifying tournaments late last month. The three group winners, plus the best runner-up, will qualify directly for the quarter-finals. The remaining eight teams will compete in knockout matches for the remaining four places.