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NHL will not send players to Beijing Olympics, citing the COVID-19 surge

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The NHL announced Wednesday that its players will not compete in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing amid a COVID-19 surge across the league.  NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement that more than 50 regular season games have been postponed through December 23 because of recent COVID-related events, adding that for this reason, "Olympic participation is no longer feasible." 

"We certainly acknowledge and appreciate the efforts made by the International Olympic Committee, the International Ice Hockey Federation and the Beijing Organizing Committee to host NHL Players but current circumstances have made it impossible for us to proceed despite everyone's best efforts,"  Bettman said. "We look forward to Olympic participation in 2026."

More than 15% of the league's 700-plus players are in virus protocol. Earlier this week, the NHL began its annual holiday break two days earlier than scheduled, amid a rise of positive COVID-19 test results among players. The pause is expected to end on Saturday. 

Bettman said the priority is finish the season. The February 6 through 23 dates intended to be used for the Beijing Olympics will now be used for games that were rescheduled, he 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," he said. 

The NHL Players' Association executive director Don Fehr said in a statement that players had been looking forward to participating in the Winter Olympics, but the recent outbreak in the league forced them to reconsider. 

"COVID-19 has unfortunately intervened, forcing dozens of games to be postponed this month alone," he said. "No matter how much we wish it were not the case, we need to utilize the Olympic period to reschedule these games."

CBS Sports reported NHL players haven't participated in the Winter Olympics since 2012. The league had until January 10 to make a final decision on whether to opt out of the Beijing Olympics without any financial penalty. 

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