It’s never happened before, but the 2018 Winter Olympics might not include a men’s hockey team from the host nation.
The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) used to give automatic Olympic berths to host nations, but that policy changed before the 2010 Winter Games.
It wasn’t an issue in 2010 or 2014 since Canada and Russia hosted those Olympics and, as traditional hockey powers, had no trouble qualifying.
But the 2018 Olympics are in Pyeongchang, South Korea, a nation that has never participated in Olympic hockey and is ranked No. 23 in the world.
If Olympic hockey qualification is unchanged for 2018, it will include the top nine nations in the world rankings two years from now. The remaining three spots would be determined by a series of round-robin tournaments.
For 2014, 24 nations took part at various stages of the round-robin qualifying. That included South Korea, which bowed out before the final round-robin tournaments by finishing second in its pre-qualification group to Great Britain. The Brits went on to the final qualification tournament and didn’t notch a point in its four-team group, where only the group winner advanced to Sochi.
South Korea hopes the IIHF changes its qualifying for 2018 to allow its participation, but the IIHF is concerned about blowouts. Here’s the Korea Times‘ take this week:
According to sources familiar to domestic ice hockey, the KIHA “pleaded” with the IIHF in November to find a way for Korea to make it into the PyeongChang Games.
The IIHF acknowledged the awkwardness of a “festival without the host” in the sport, and promised Korea’s qualification at its discretion with one condition.
“(It is) progress in performance,” the KIHA official said, “IIHF Chairman Rene Fasel said Korea should at least show a better performance to compete equally with international powerhouses such as Sweden.”
The bottom line suggested was to raise its world ranking to 18th.
Compounding South Korea’s problems is that it has been without a foreign coach for nine months. It had announced that it would appoint a coach in May, but that didn’t happen, and is now hoping to have one by August, according to the Korea Times.
The Korea Times also reported the IIHF will determine whether it will change its policy and allow South Korea an automatic spot in 2018 by May 2016.