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Jacques Rogge (part 2): Women's hockey gets more time, so does NHL

February 25, 2010 |  1:10 pm
Alexander At the Thursday breakfast interview with a group of international journalists who focus on the Olympics, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge was optimistic about the future of both women's hockey and of NHL involvement at the Winter Games.

Many NHL owners have already made clear that the distance and time difference between North America and Sochi, Russia, site of the 2014 Games, minimizes the value of having their players participate.  But some players, including Russian NHL superstar Alex Ovechkin, have made it just as clear they intend to play.

"I would hope [the NHL will continue to participate] because they add a lot to the quality of the hockey tournament,'' Rogge said.  "I have had a meeting with [NHL commissioner] Gary Bettman and [International Hockey Federation President] Rene Fasel.  This was not a final discussion.  We still have plenty of time to find a solution.''

Is there any pressure the IOC can exert or anything you can do to entice Mr. Bettman to make this happen?

"It's not my style in negotiations to pressure people.  I would like to persuade, and the persuasion is two-fold:

"One, the players want to participate.  Mr. Ovechkin has said that whatever happens, I will be be present in Sochi, and he has the power to do so, of course, being allegedly the best ice hockey player -- together with [Canada's] Sidney Crosby -- of the whole NHL.

"Secondly, it is the best promotion for the NHL and for hockey.  Don't forget the [TV] ratings of the Olympic final are way higher than the Stanley Cup final.  This is fantastic promotion for the NHL in North America.''

On the issue of promoting hockey, were you disappointed that NBC chose to put the U.S. - Canada game on cable rather than its main over-the-air network?

"It is their judgment. We're not going to enter into that.''

What did you think of the Canada-Russia hockey game (Canada won, 7-3)?

"I'm a little bit surprised.  Victory could have been both ways, but not by such a score.  At the same time, I saw the joy and elation of the Canadians.  One Canadian told me, 'At least we will not be obliged to close the Games now.' "

The issue with women's hockey is the continued utter dominance of the U.S. and Canada, and the lopsided scores that have occurred in many games between either of them and the other six teams in the tournament.  The U.S. made the Thursday final against Canada with an aggregate score of 40-2 in its four games; Canada, with an aggregate of 46-2.

Rogge said it would be a "sad thing'" for women's hockey to be eliminated because the rest of the world has shown little improvement since the sport entered the Winter Games in 1998.

"There is a [talent] discrepancy.  This is the investment period in women's ice hockey.  I would give them more time to prove [themselves], but there must be at a certain stage an improvement.  There is an improvement in a certain number of nations, and we want to see this wider.

"Women hockey is a young sport, but the sport has to grow.  The Games themselves will do a lot to help the popularity of the sport, but you need a couple of years to get to the stage.  I have no doubt that in the future, women hockey will be a hit.'"

One thing helping women's hockey remain on the program is that the Olympics needs rinks for the men's tournament.

-- Philip Hersh in Vancouver, Canada

Photo: Alex Ovechkin. Credit: Marcio Sanchez / Associated Press