Hockey Canada officials believe national team members playing in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League will be allowed to perform at the 2018 Olympics, even if Russian parliament or the league attempts to prohibit all KHL players from participating for their respective countries at the Pyeongchang Games.
The KHL boycott threat is a possibility after the International Olympic Committee banned Russian athletes from competing in Pyeongchang unless they can prove they are clean and are willing to compete under a neutral flag.
The IOC’s decision was made on Tuesday after an extensive investigation into allegations of Russian state-sponsored doping at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
Immediately, there was plenty of speculation on what this means for the men’s hockey tournament in Pyeongchang, already tarnished with the decision by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to prohibit the world’s best to play in the Olympics after the league participated in the previous five Winter Games.
The Russian Olympic Committee or KHL officials have yet to react to the IOC’s decision. It may take a day or two or more for a decision as to whether there will be a Russian boycott or whether Russia will allow athletes to compete under a neutral flag.
‘Russia is unpredictable’
What we do know is that Canadian national team officials believe that under the International Ice Hockey Federation transfer agreement, players have to be released to play for their countries if called upon for IIHF-sanctioned events like the Karjala Cup in Helsinki last month, the Channel One Cup in Moscow next week and the Pyeongchang Olympics in February.
“Legally, Russia can’t keep non-Russians from competing in the Olympics,” a Hockey Canada source said. “But when you’re dealing with Russia, it’s so unpredictable.”
However, all Hockey Canada said publicly on Tuesday was the following statement: “Hockey Canada believes in clean sport and a level playing field for all athletes. We trust that the IOC and IIHF will continue to ensure that all athletes compete on an equal playing field.”
IOC president Thomas Bach urged clean Russian athletes to compete in Pyeongchang.
“An Olympic boycott has never accomplished anything,” Bach said. “I don’t see any reason for a boycott for the Russian athletes because we have allowed the clean Russian athletes to participate.”