NHL: Future Olympic participation up for debate

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The Independent Online

With NHL players gearing up for the 2010 Olympics, commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday the league's participation in future Games is up for debate.

"Every time I discuss the pluses and minuses and I articulate what the minuses are people say, 'Oh, well they've made up their mind - they're not going,'" Bettman said.

"It's difficult for any business, any league, to shut down for two weeks with the attendant loss of attention and everything that flows from it and there are competitive issues."

Starting with the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the NHL has taken an Olympic break every four years, allowing players to compete for their native countries at the Games.

This year the league will break on February 15 for 15 days to allow NHL players to compete in Vancouver.

While it insures the best players take part in the Olympics, Bettman said there's a big downside for the league.

"Our teams send varying amounts of players to the Olympics, and so a team that sends eight or nine players may come back a little more tired and banged up than an NHL team that sends none or one or two," he said.

But the commissioner said there was plenty of time to make a decision for the 2014 Sochi Games.

"I know the players are passionate about representing their countries - we have a long history as a sport in international competition and that's something that's important to the players.

"But we have to decide, on balance, is it worth it?" he said.

Bettman also voiced concern over whether the NHL loses out on publicity during the Games, allowing fan enthusiasm to dwindle.

"In some places, the benefits are greater for the Olympic participation than others. When you're in Vancouver or Salt Lake City and you're in North American time zones and you're getting that type of coverage, then you are getting coverage that may be commensurate with shutting down," Bettman said.

"When you're halfway around the world, maybe the coverage isn't as great. The time zone in Sochi, Russia, for example is 10 hours ahead of the mountain time zone," he said, noting that the time difference meant games would be played in the middle of the night in North America.

"Is it worth it? I don't have an answer to it yet."