It's always a special treat when Sidney Crosby is in town. That was true once again Monday night, where the future Hall of Famer’s presence at Canada Life Centre for the first time in more than two years served up reminders of Olympic hockey triumphs of the past.
Who can forget Crosby's "golden goal" in overtime against the United States on home soil in Vancouver 2010 to put Canada on top of the podium? Sid The Kid followed up that iconic performance four years later in Sochi by scoring in the deciding game once again in a shutout win over Sweden.
After an absence from PyeongChang in 2018, the NHL is set to head back to the Winter Games February in Beijing. Crosby is expected to again play a prominent role, joined by a new generation of Canadian superstars such as Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon, and perhaps even Mark Scheifele, who will get their first taste of best-on-best.
Exciting stuff, right? Not so fast.
We are now just over 10 weeks away until the torch is officially lit in China, and a dark cloud is hanging over the event, one that could— and perhaps should — scuttle the whole thing. The matter is especially complex when it comes to the NHL's involvement.
It's no secret commissioner Gary Bettman doesn't want to go. Shutting down the league for three weeks to send more than 100 pivotal players halfway across the globe where they risk injury and illness, especially after two straight shortened seasons due to the pandemic that threw the entire schedule out of whack, was a concession they grudgingly made last year when negotiating an extension to the collective bargaining agreement.
Bettman basically held his nose while tossing the players a bone. I understand the concerns, and obviously the league he presides over must come first, but this is a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. If hockey is to continue to grow around the world, having the brightest on the biggest stage is a no-brainer.
The reward is certainly worth the risk.
However, in the fine print of the document was an out clause, one that has now been triggered by a recent COVID-19 outbreak in Ottawa that has caused three Senators games to be postponed. With so little time to work with — the NHL is firm on awarding the Stanley Cup by late June to finally get its timelines back on track — the plug could conceivably be pulled.
Given the importance to the players, the backlash caused by such a move would be significant, but it's a situation worth monitoring, especially given other events that have recently come to light.
Calls for a full boycott of the Games are growing louder by the day, thanks to China's repeated, prolonged human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims, Tibetans, and other minorities that have largely been ignored and/or swept under the carpet, but the sports world has suddenly taken notice, due mainly to the disturbing case of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai.
The former No. 1 ranked doubles competitor in the world went public with allegations of sexual assault against a senior Chinese official on Nov. 2, only to have her claims mysteriously vanish from social media while she disappeared for nearly three weeks, sparking major fears about her safety and a global demand for answers.
The International Olympic Committee, no stranger to allegations of corruption and mismanagement, only added more fuel to the fire on Monday when they released details of a dubious video call with Shuai. It appears to be nothing more than a PR stunt, one which offered no assurances Shuai isn't being coerced and/or threatened to go along with a certain narrative that is underlined by the fact this whole scandal has essentially been scrubbed from Chinese-controlled media.
Now the IOC is rightfully facing further backlash, with some of the biggest names in tennis demanding an independent investigation including providing Shuai a safe environment to truly tell her story. Yaqiu Wang, a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch, tweeted that the IOC is "actively playing a role in the Chinese government’s enforced disappearance, coercion and propaganda machinery."
Following a meeting last week with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Joe Biden said a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics is very much on the table, with further discussions planned in the coming days
It would be a shame for all of the athletes who have poured their heart and souls into preparing for the Games to now have what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity taken away. And there’s a case to be made that "quiet diplomacy" is sometimes the best course of action, which appears to the route currently being pursued. It recently worked, for example, to get the "Two Michael’s" released from Chinese custody and returned to Canada
Money typically talks, and both the IOC and China itself would be hit hard where it really hurts if the Olympic torch is snuffed out.
I’d love to see what Crosby and his Canadian teammates could do while battling the likes of Auston Matthews and Kyle Connor (U.S.), Patrik Laine and Aleksander Barkov (Finland), Alexander Ovechkin and Nikita Kucherov (Russia) and Elias Pettersson and Victor Hedman (Sweden), among many others, for shinny supremacy.
It would be spectacular, no doubt, but sports should never take precedence over human life, even if history is sadly littered with shameful examples of that occurring.
We’re getting close to a crossroads when it comes to Beijing and it’s starting to feel like the nuclear option could be the only way to drive home this very important message.
As painful as it would be, taking a stand might mean sitting this one out.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.