The National Hockey League has confirmed it will not send its players to compete in the men’s ice hockey tournament at the Beijing Winter Olympics after the regular season schedule was disrupted due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
“Unfortunately, given the profound disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events –50 games already have been postponed through December. 23 – Olympic participation is no longer feasible,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Wednesday.
The NHL agreed last September to pause its regular season so the world’s top players could compete in Beijing, but could withdraw from the agreement if COVID-19 disruptions forced games to be rescheduled during the Olympics window.
With COVID-19 spreading through team locker rooms, the NHL, in an attempt to combat the outbreak, brought its Christmas break forward to shut down operations from Wednesday through to December 27.
The NHL had until January 10 to withdraw from the Olympics, which run February 4-20, without financial penalty.
The decision comes as a huge disappointment for players, who had negotiated a return to the Olympics into the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
Canada and the United States, which would have sent teams stocked completely with NHL players, will now have to cobble together a roster from other leagues.
Other countries, such as Sweden, Finland, Russia, Germany and Czech Republic, will also have big holes to fill with many of their best players also in the NHL.
Australia does not have a team in either the men’s or women’s events.