Will China Be the First Host Nation to Be Removed From Olympic Hockey?

Hockey officials are concerned the Chinese team will embarrass the host nation at the upcoming Winter Olympics

Joonas Jarvinen of HC Kunlun Red Star falls down
Joonas Jarvinen of HC Kunlun Red Star falls down during a game in Shanghai.
Visual China Group via Getty Ima

In order to avoid an embarrassing situation for the host nation of the Winter Olympics, hockey officials are considering removing the Chinese hockey team from competing at the upcoming Games.

If the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) does cut the Chinese team, China would become the first Olympic host to be removed from the hockey tournament since hosting the Games guaranteed participation, a tradition that dates back to the Turin Games in 2006, according to The New York Times. (Italy had a -14 goal differential as the first host nation with a guaranteed spot.)

Largely made up of players from the Beijing-based Kunlun Red Star team of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), China’s men’s ice hockey team is ranked 32nd in the world by the IIHF and has drawn the U.S., Canada and Germany as first-round opponents in the Games.

With the International Olympic Committee reaching an agreement with the NHL last month about the league’s players participating in the Games (something that did not happen four years ago when the Olympics were held in South Korea), the American, Canadian and German squads will be loaded with top talent, something that cannot be said for the Chinese men’s team.

IIHF president Luc Tardif said last month that the team could be bumped from the men’s ice hockey tournament in Beijing because of its “insufficient sporting standard.”

“This question really arises for the men’s team, not for the women’s team,” Tardif told Agence France-Presse. “There are going to be games for the China team that will be overseen by an IIHF official and a decision will be made afterwards. Watching a team being beaten 15-0 is not good for anyone, not for China, or for ice hockey.”

This season in the KHL, the Red Star have won just five of the team’s 22 games and reside in last place with a goal differential of minus-33. The team has only scored 48 goals this season, but has allowed more (81) than any other squad in the 24-team KHL. If allowed to compete, the Chinese team appears poised to suffer a series of blowout defeats against gold-medal favorites in the U.S. and Canada, an outcome the IIHF would prefer to avoid if possible.

“I know they have some guys that can skate,” Barry Beck, who coached Hong Kong’s men’s national team and played 615 games in the NHL, told The South China Morning Post. “However their defense is a big issue, and that will cause them a lot of problems against NHL players surely.”

Should China get cut, it seems probable the 11th-ranked Norway would take the host nation’s place in the tourney.

The IIHF is set to meet for a board meeting next week board meeting in Zurich and it’s possible the Chinese team’s fate will be decided then. The 2022 Winter Olympics are set to begin on February 4.

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