It is news that the NHL is suddenly on red alert about what will happen to its employees if they catch COVID-19 at the Beijing Olympics.
It shouldn’t be, but it is.
Is the internet out at NHL HQ? Or were they working on the theory that China has one set of rules for hockey players and a different set for everyone else?
The case of Mateusz Sochowicz should have raised a few antennae.
Sochowicz is a Polish luger. A month ago, he hit a barrier on the Olympic course in Beijing and shattered his leg. Afterward, organizers promised structural changes to the track – an admission they’d played some role in nearly killing the poor guy.
You’d think that might’ve earned him a solid from the Chinese regime. But when his federation tried to arrange for Sochowicz to travel home to convalesce, they were told that was against Chinese quarantine procedures. Though he didn’t have coronavirus, Sochowicz would have to stay another two weeks before being allowed on a plane.
After a flurry of headlines, Sochowicz was flown home on a cargo plane. A bunch of things – fear of bad publicity, the fact that China was at partial fault, a slow news day – squeaked him through a loophole.
Once the Olympics is upon us, there aren’t going to be any more loopholes. Somehow, the fact that this might bode ill for their travel plans has just occurred to the hockey world.
“We have concerns,” commissioner Gary Bettman said on Friday. “We’ve expressed those to the Players’ Association. We see that a number of players are now also expressing concerns, and we’ll have to see how this all plays out.”
According to reports, the coming iteration of the Olympic handbook lays out how long visitors to China could be looking at. If you catch the bug, there is the possibility you could be quarantined for as long as five weeks. Again, this shouldn’t be startling news to a multibillion-dollar organization sending a couple of hundred people to Beijing. It’s already standard operating procedure under Chinese law.
The Olympics begin on Feb. 4 and end on Feb. 20. What if you test positive on the 19th? Do your own math here.
For now, the players’ concerns aren’t that they’ll get thrown in a jazzed-up detention camp and cut off from the outside world (those are very much my concerns). They are more concerned they won’t be paid while they’re doing their bid.
Another concern, as voiced by PA boss Donald Fehr, is whether the players will have to do this theoretical quarantine in China. Fehr is seeking “certainty” on the matter.
Sorry? How did you imagine this going?
“Bad news, friend. You’ve tested positive. Stuff some underwear in your shirt because it’s going to be cold where you’re … hold on, comrades. This says this guy is Erik Karlsson. Not the Erik Karlsson? Oh man, this is so cool. We’re going to arrange for you to do your COVID timeout on a Thai beach. It’s where we send members of the Politburo and Norris Trophy winners.”
I’ll give you some certainty. I’m certain that it’s a bad idea to get COVID anywhere, and extra certain that China is the last place you want to do it.
When a visitor to Shanghai Disneyland tested positive last month, they locked the park with 34,000 people inside it. Nobody was allowed out until they’d all been tested. Then they closed the park for a week.
Later, it came out that the patient zero who sparked the crisis probably hadn’t gone to Disneyland after all.
So if your number comes up in China, you are in for a world of hurt. That should be technicolour clear to anyone planning on attending the Olympics.
This will not dissuade the vast majority of amateurs. Trapped between bad politics and bad epidemiology, I’m fairly sure many of them would start quarantining in Beijing tomorrow if it would guarantee the Games go off as planned.
If the millionaires of the NHL want to be the ones who drop out en masse, that’s their business.
But for the love of god, spare us weeks of public garment-rending about how agonizing this decision is. You can already feel that coming around the bend. All the weepy Instagram posts about how nothing matters more to you than putting on the national colours, but your cousin’s kid’s birthday party is on the 21st and you promised you’d be there, so what else can you do?
If you don’t want to go, don’t go. Don’t try to fix it so that it looks like you couldn’t go. It makes everyone feel foolish – you for trying it, and us for pretending to believe it.
If it’s the money that’s bothering you, don’t say that. Don’t start complaining about cheapskate owners. Many of your temporary Olympic colleagues live with their parents to save money. They don’t want to hear how you feel ripped off because there is the small risk you will only make $9-million this year instead of the usual $10-million. If Fehr starts talking this way on your behalf, slap the microphone out of his hand.
If you want out, inform the relevant authority to take your name off the list. There’s no shame in it. If someone asks you about it, say you didn’t feel comfortable going and leave it there. Say you understand why others will, but that it wasn’t right for you.
Resist the urge to try looking like a hero for taking a pass. Do not under any circumstances suddenly discover a political conscience to use as camouflage. Do not blame elderly family members. Don’t say your wife is scared. Just do it and move on.
Worst case for those NHLers who plan on dropping out of the Olympics: That only a few of them do it, so that it’s easy to remember their names.
Best case: That for a variety of reasons, this party ends up getting cancelled before they have the chance to bail. But that only works if you don’t complain about it now.