The Winter Olympics & the NHL

We’re nearing the end of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and the hockey has not had the same shine. Despite attending since 1998, the commissioner of the National Hockey League, Gary Bettman, put a blanket ban on NHL players attending the 2018 Olympics. They argued that the league has no evidence that the Olympics have a positive impact on the business or the sport itself. They listed several, half-hearted reasons:

Money:

  • It’s not cost-effective to send players to the Winter Games
  • Star players are selected for the national team and if they get injured on international duty then it impacts their NHL team: Tavares, Zetterberg, Barkov, and Kopecky all suffered season-ending injuries in Sochi.
  • There’s a lukewarm reception for the NHL in Asia.
  • Player salaries are so good they are able to play for free at Olympics; there is an argument that this is a luxury they can only afford due to the league’s generosity.

Time: 

  • Bye-weeks have been introduced in the last couple of seasons to provide a mid-season break
  • Halting the season for almost a month for the Olympics, disrupts a season; the summer break for the Stanley Cup Final teams then becomes very short.
  • There’s no football or baseball on to compete with at this time of year and voluntarily making the league redundant during this time is a bad business move.

Rights: 

  • NHL doesn’t receive the rights to photos or videos from Olympic competitions therefore Crosby’s Vancouver golden goal and Oshie’s shootout heroics were unable  to be shown.

Already International:

  • The NHL had it’s own World Cup a couple of years ago
  • They’ve hosted “China Games” this season in Shanghai and Beijing
  • They’ve also announced European games in Sweden, Finland, and Germany

On the surface, the majority of these reasons are plausible ones to not attend the Olympics, but when you break it down, it is all about the money. Maybe that’s the way of professional sports, but it’s greedy and dispirited.

In previous years, the International Olympic Committee has paid for the travel expenses, insurance, and accommodation, but refused in 2018. The International Ice Hockey Federation offered $20 million in support, but this was refused then the NHL decided the Olympics isn’t profitable to the league.

Injuries do happen – even to star players – but they happen in league games, they happen in World Cup of Hockey games, they happen in China Games, and they happen in European Games. How many players, at the end of a season, come forward with a list of body parts that need repairs? Imagine if soccer teams denied their players the chance to play in the World Cup because they might get injured. The soccer season is littered with international games; players being injured in a friendly international game is frustrating but representing your country is an athlete’s highest honour.

If there’s no football or baseball to watch, would you switch to hockey? Or would you switch to the Winter Olympics that happens once every four years? Commentary on the Winter Games is meant for people who do not know the sport so can provide an easy introduction to it. What better place to showcase star players who are the big draws to the game!

The season is lengthened when the Winter Games are included, but a new team, the Vegas Golden Knights, has entered the league which has also lengthened the season; Seattle have proposed a team for the league too and that will likely come into effect in the next few years. For the players who are not selected to play for their country, the Olympics provides the opportunity to rest up and have injuries seen to, putting them in better stead for the run up to the play offs. The majority of league players will not attend the Olympics and the majority will not make it to the Stanley Cup final.

Pre-season has been brought forwards, with the inclusion of the China Games and the World Cup of Hockey; these are unnecessary NHL money-spinners that lengthen the season too. They’ve also decided to include the European games as part of the regular league; why not make these players have a 10 hour flight to Europe, play a single game, and fly back to North America! That makes a world of sense… Furthermore, although they have argued that the Olympics isn’t growing the game, it’s more likely that they do not directly receive the profits of these games hence why they’re “growing it on their own term$”.

The Winter Olympics is once every four years!!! FOUR YEARS!! The arguments about costs/season disruption/injuries are ones that are faced once every four years.

Finally, professional athletes are being denied the right to live out a dream of competing at the Olympics. However, this has provided lower league players the opportunity to live that dream. With the absence of power-house NHL roster Canadian and American teams, could it be that there is a more level playing field (or hockey rink)? Certainly, the Germans will be happy with their semi-final win over Canada, but the 36 million Canadians might not be.

Without a doubt, the hockey has been great – but it could have been outstanding with NHL players. That’s not meant to discredit the athletes in South Korea as many college players will go onto professional leagues, lots of ex-NHLers are in the rosters, and numerous other players are in professional leagues around Europe: the bulk of the Olympic Athletes from Russia team is made up of SKA St Petersburg players from the Kontinental Hockey League. But it’s so exciting to watch the faces of each franchise line up together as one team.

The take home message: if Gary Bettman isn’t lining his pockets then he ain’t interested.

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Gary Bettman at it again
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RIP Cyrille Regis

On the 14th January, the footballing world lost one of its greats. Cyrille Regis gained 5 caps for England, and made 614 career appearances for various clubs in England, but perhaps Cyrille was most well known for being a trail blazer for black footballers. During his time at West Brom, he played alongside Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson, who were nicknamed the three degrees.

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These three black players were subjected to racist abuse during the 1970s. The abuse included the chant “pull that trigger, shoot that n*****”, and receiving bullets in the post. Despite this,  he continued to inspire young black players to pursue the game. The three broke down barriers and showed the heights that could be achieved for black players. They  are to be honoured with a statue this season at the Hawthorns.

 

 

An electrifying player on the pitch, and a role model off it. Rest in peace to one of the true gentlemen of the game, Cyrille Regis.

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Virgil Van Dijk is a Red

The 26 year old Dutch player made history yesterday by becoming the most expensive defender with a world record fee of £75m. Van Dijk spent two and a half years with Southampton before signing for Liverpool Football Club.

At 26, Van Dijk is entering his peak years; he’s everything Liverpool could want in a defender – he’s tall, strong, great in aerial challenges, he can attack and defend, he’s quick, he’s physical, and an accurate passer. Ragnar Klavan and Dejan Lovren’s position in the team might be under threat with the arrival of VVD, but it’s a needed change; whilst Liverpool’s attack has been stellar, their defence has been woeful.

Man City have been on too good of a form this year, for me I believe the title race is already over. However, qualifying for the top four is going to be tight and van Dijk’s arrival is much needed. Next season, with Keita in the squad too, Liverpool will be a force to be reckoned with.

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The Mighty Pirlo Retires

22 years, 5 months, and sixteen days after his first professional game, Andrea Pirlo has announced his retirement from football. Pirlo leaves the game with:

  • 832 games played
  • 6 Serie A titles
  • 2 Coppa Italia
  • 3 Supercoppa Italiana
  • 2 UEFA Champions Leagues
  • 2 UEFA Super Cups
  • 1 FIFA Club World Cup
  • 1 World Cup

An incredible career and an absolutely phenomenal player. Enjoy seventeen minutes of his best bits. 

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No Pirlo, No Party

“I lifted my eyes to the heavens and asked for help because if God exists, there’s no way he’s French.” – Pirlo before taking a penalty in the 2006 World Cup Final

The Young Guns

England. Every major tournament, we watch in frustration at the men’s senior team’s inability to succeed. We fly through qualification – usually – against small teams from Eastern Europe who have only been countries for a few decades then when we’re met with quality opposition, we’re stuck. When the summer rolls by and England head off to the World Cup in Russia, will it be a repeat of previous competitions where the spectators throw away 90 minutes of their lives watching the dullest football possible? Possibly. But we’ll get to that in a few months time.

2017 has been a success for English football. The men’s senior team did qualify for the World Cup, and although it is generally expected, it’s still an achievement. The U20s team won their respective world cup with a 1-0 win over Venezuela then the U17s won their world cup in India with a stunning 5-2 win over Spain.

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A new golden generation. That’s a lot of pressure to be piled on so early in advance, don’t you think, Gary? England are notorious for failing to live up to expectations. The senior team have only won one major trophy and that was fifty years ago!

There are many reasons why the senior team fails to perform; lack of cohesion is a key factor and the effect of strong cohesion can be seen within the German teams from 2010 and 2014, as well as the Spanish World Cup winning team in 2010. Many of these players had played together every week in their clubs; Barcelona and Real Madrid made the core of the Spanish side, Bayern Munich and Dortmund formed the bulk of the German squad. We can argue that in England there’s a few from Liverpool, few from Manchester United, a couple from Leicester, but it’s not enough. They’re footballers – surely they can play no matter who they’re on a team with.

Before they get to that point, these young players need to mature. What is important now is that these “golden” youth teams are provided with a chance to grow – to make mistakes – and develop. They need time to move up through the youth ranks and have the opportunity to represent their senior side. Too often, young players are not given the space to learn in a senior side for fear of losing league points – and in the Premier League, every point matters (unless you’re Manchester City who are running away with the league this season).

Many will argue that bringing in foreign players, removes the opportunity for home grown talent – and whilst I don’t completely agree with that statement, I believe club managers do need to let talented young players into the senior squad, even if it is at the risk of them making a mistake. If we do not make mistakes, we do not learn.

If nobody took a chance on the class of ’92, we wouldn’t have Beckham, the Nevilles, Butt, Scholes, and Giggs.

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