NHL wants concessions from IOC to remain in Olympics

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By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will have to sweeten the pot if it wants the NHL to even consider playing at the 2014 Winter Games, commissioner Gary Bettman told the World Hockey Summit on Wednesday.

A tough-talking Bettman said the league is not looking for money from the IOC but has a long list of demands, including a bigger say in scheduling and access to its players, if the NHL is to continue its Olympic involvement.

"There are a host of issues that need to be addressed ... if the decision is going to be that we go to Sochi," said Bettman. "We haven't said no and anyone who suggests that we have made a decision or that I'm anti-Olympics doesn't get it.

"When we understand what the IOC and IIHF are prepared to do to make our taking a 16 day break sensible... the board of governors will make a decision."

The Olympic question has dominated discussions the opening three days of the summit that has brought together hockey's power brokers to discuss ways to globally grow the sport.

Despite the massive exposure the NHL received from the hugely successful men's ice hockey tournament at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, Bettman says the benefits have not always out-weighted the negatives.

Chief among the NHL's concerns is turning over control of its biggest asset -- $2.1 billion worth of players -- without having any input into how the tournament is run.

It was revealed at the summit that NHL team doctors were denied access to examine injured players in Vancouver while team officials, including Detroit Red Wings owner Mike Illich, were prevented from meeting their players.

Teams have also complained that players often return injured or exhausted, impacting the competitive integrity of the season.

"Going to the Olympics for us is a mixed bag," explained Bettman. "It can be very, very good but even when it is very, very, good there are issues and problems.

"There is a mixed sentiment among the clubs, some think going to the Olympics is a terrible idea under any circumstances and some think it is important no matter what the sacrifice."

With the players 90 percent in favor of taking part of the Winter Games, Bettman denied the league is holding off on a decision in order to use the Olympic issue as a bargaining chip during negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which can begin at the end of the 2012 season at the earliest.

The decision to free players for Sochi could also hinge on who is awarded the North American television rights to the 2014 Games, Bettman saying the league would want to make sure it was properly promoted and given the best possible time slots.

"The fact of the matter is that the IOC has not even done it's broadcasting rights yet and who broadcasts the games in Canada and the United States may be an issue for us," said Bettman. "If we're going to make the effort to go then we want to make sure we are going to be covered in a way that is appropriate for taking the 16 days off.

"I've been told by some broadcasters that they are prepared to submit bids that are contingent on us being there. One price with us there and another price without us there."

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)