The National Hockey League (NHL) withdrew its players from the men’s ice hockey tournament at the Beijing Winter Olympics after the regular-season schedule was disrupted by coronavirus outbreaks. The 2022 Games will be the second consecutive one to take place without the North American league’s participation. 

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Commissioner Gary Bettman made the announcement Wednesday, making official what seemed inevitable in recent days when the list of postponed games quickly grew to 50. The league will use the previously scheduled Feb. 6-22 Olympic break to make up those games and others that need to be rescheduled.

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“Given the profound disruption to the NHL’s regular-season schedule caused by recent COVID-related events … Olympic participation is no longer feasible,” Bettman said. “Our focus and goal have been and must remain to responsibly and safely complete the entirety of the NHL regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs in a timely manner.”

In a separate statement, Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr said that while there was a clear path to Beijing before COVID-19 intervened, the Olympic break is now needed to make up games.

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The NHL is concerned about the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus that is spreading globally. 

As per an AP source, the league informed the players’ association on Tuesday that it was retaining its right to withdraw from Olympic participation because there was a material disruption to the season, and the union was not going to dispute the decision. 

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These reports emerge 15 months after the NHL agreed to pause its regular season so some of the world’s finest ice hockey players could compete in Beijing. However, the league had maintained the provision that it could withdraw if COVID-19 disruptions forced games to be rescheduled during the Olympics window.

The NHL has been forced to postpone 50 games in Canada and the United States after a growing number of players entered COVID-19 protocols. The league had until 10 January to withdraw from the Beijing Olympics without financial penalty. 

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Authorities are also concerned that a positive test in China could lead to a 21-day quarantine and delay returning to their families and NHL clubs

The Winter Olympics will be held from February 4 to February 20.