Fasel brings Olympics sales pitch to world summit

By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - IIHF chief Rene Fasel trotted out his well-worn sales pitch to a who's who of the ice hockey world on Tuesday in his ongoing effort to get the NHL to commit to the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"I respect the National Hockey League very much," Fasel told his audience of hockey heavyweights attending the four day World Hockey Summit. "It is the only professional league that is shutting down for two weeks to come to the Olympics.

"But with what we achieved in Vancouver, it is the best promotion for our sport...let us work together and find a solution and we can have an even better story in Sochi."

Despite the massive exposure the NHL received from the hugely successful men's ice hockey tournament at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, the league has yet to commit to continuing its Olympic participation.

The NHL will not make that decision before the end of the 2012 season when negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) can begin and the league is ready to use the Olympics as a bargaining chip.

Between now and then, Fasel will continue to push for the NHL to remain part of the Olympic lodge while NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will take every opportunity to detail the many reasons for the league's reluctance to remain a Games partner.

The Olympic question has become a major source of friction between Bettman and Fasel, who will push their agendas to delegates and the media on separate days at the summit.


While Fasel has appealed to fans' emotions and what is good for the game, Bettman has focused on what is best for business.

"We are married now 15 years, it's like a couple, sometimes you disagree, but we are working on the same goal and trying to keep the family together," Fasel told reporters.

"I appreciate what Gary is doing. It's his job, he is the commissioner, it is business but it is also sport.

"It's not an easy job and I have to respect that."

Since the Olympics were opened up to professional players at the 1998 Winter Games, the hockey tournament has become one of the biggest events pulling in huge television ratings and crowds.

Chief among the NHL's concerns is turning over control of its biggest asset - its players - without having any say or involvement in how the Olympic tournament is run.

NHL owners receive no compensation from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for shutting down their operations and were further angered when they were denied access to their own players in Vancouver.

The NHL has complained that they are treated as guests at the Olympics rather than partners.

"When I go to the Stanley Cup I am a guest," countered Fasel. "If Gary wants to be more involved he just has to tell me how he wants to do that and we will find a solution.

"I don't think the IOC has enough money (to pay the NHL) when you have a business with a $2.3 billion turnover.

"But it is not a money question. I cannot think the NHL is trying to get money out of a non-profit organization.

"The maximum we could pay would be $3 million or $4 million and that is pocket money for the NHL.

"The final goal must be we do everything for the game."

(Editing by Rex Gowar)