NHL players won't go to Beijing Olympics amid COVID-19 concerns: reports

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  • Chris Johnston
    Footballer
Two-time Olympic gold medallist Sidney Crosby was one of the players named to Canada's initial roster for the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing. (Matt Slocum/The Associated Press - image credit)
Two-time Olympic gold medallist Sidney Crosby was one of the players named to Canada's initial roster for the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing. (Matt Slocum/The Associated Press - image credit)

The National Hockey League and National Hockey League Players' Association have reached an agreement to not send its players to participate in the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics in February, according to reports from The Toronto Star's Chris Johnston and Daily Faceoff's Frank Seravalli.

According to Johnston, the league and its players made the decision on Tuesday and now must finalize it with the International Olympic Committee. Seravalli reported on Twitter the official announcement could come as early as Tuesday or even later in the week. The league had until Jan. 10 to opt out of the Olympics without financial penalty.

CBC Sports has not been able to independently confirm the report.

The news comes a day after the league announced the season would be shut down for its holiday break a day early, and pause activities from Dec. 21-25. Ten teams have been shut down amid COVID-19 outbreaks and a total of 50 games have been postponed this season.

WATCH l NHL players will reportedly not participate in Beijing Olympics:

Johnston reported the league made the decision based on the need to reschedule games during the three-week break it would have had for the Olympics, scheduled to start Feb. 4.

ESPN reported those could include currently postponed games or even moving up future games as a result of the lack of arena availability during the break, with many booking concerts and other events.

The NHL first allowed its players to participate in the Olympics in 1998 and had continued to do so until opting out of the PyeongChang Olympics in 2018.

The NHL and NHLPA officially committed to going to China for the 2022 Games back in September, but that agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation allowed either party to withdraw if COVID-19 conditions rendered participation "impractical or unsafe."

The two sides initially agreed to go to China as part of negotiations to extend the current collective bargaining agreement when the league restarted after the pandemic forced it to shutter operations in March 2020.

Owners have never been enamoured by the Olympics for a host of reasons, including disruption to the league calendar, but promised players they would do everything possible to get them to Beijing.

Apart from the risks of contracting the coronavirus, the NHL's worries included uncertainty around quarantine time for an athlete who tests positive at the Olympics, worsening diplomatic relations between China and the West, restrictions on the ground, and allegations of human rights abuses in the host country.

Two-time Olympic gold medallist Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, one of the players named to Canada's initial roster for the Beijing Games, told ESPN he feels for the players who might not get another Olympic opportunity.

"I've been fortunate enough to be part of two [Olympics]," Crosby said. "I definitely feel for the the guys who have missed numerous opportunities. It's not something where it's the next year or you push it a couple of months.

"These are experiences of a lifetime that you don't get very many of as an athlete."

Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steve Stamkos, who likely would have been on Canada's roster, told The Athletic he was disappointed with the prospect of not going to Beijing.

"You grow up dreaming of winning a Stanley Cup and I've been able to accomplish that," Stamkos said Tuesday ahead of his team's game in Las Vegas. "You grow up wanting to represent your country and win a gold medal. That's something I probably won't have a chance to do now."

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