January 06, 2010

Hockey Almost Banned From Olympics in 1970

This is Avery Brundage. He is a very controversial figure in sporting history. In his career as president of the International Olympic Committee he made several controversial headlines.
Many of those headlines were racism based, and far more concerning than his impact on the world of hockey. I will let you read up Brundage's controversies and let you draw your own conclusions.

But his policy the rest of the world called "shamateurism" did impact hockey greatly, and I want to discuss it here. Why? Because it almost resulted in the removal of hockey from the Olympics.

Brundage, an American, strongly opposed any professional athletes at the Olympics. Yet he knowingly allowed communist countries to use thinly-disguised professionals in many sports. Canada knows this policy all too well, as the great Soviet teams dismantled our true amateurs time and time again.

Of course this led to great charges of corruption and cheating by Brundage and the Eastern Bloc. As we discussed yesterday, Canada made the drastic decision to withdraw from international hockey rather than put up with the hypocrosy.

That high profile withdrawl combined with years of complaints of the amateur double standard at the Olympics forced Brundage to defend his policies. But rather than try to do that, he shocked many at an IOC meeting in May 1970, when he called for the removal of hockey and other sports from the Olympic Games.

"Ice hockey, football (soccer), basketball and alpine skiing should fully withdraw from the Games. We'll be sorry to have them go, but they are the victims of the materialistic times in which we live. The public will no longer support hypocrisy."

He was right, the public was disgusted by Brundage's hypocrisy. And here he was trying to turn it around on the fans!

"The truth is that in these sports, which have become commercialized even with the best of good intentions, it is impossible to assemble an amateur athlete of Olympic calibre. It can not be done. The public can not be fooled any longer and we should try to stop fooling ourselves. Soccer has it's World Cup and the Olympics get what is left over."

As Montreal Gazette columnist Dink Carroll astutely pointed out, "He could have said, though he didn't, hockey has its Stanley Cup and Bunny Ahearne and the International Ice Hockey Federation get what is left over."

Mr. Ahearne was Brundage's equally corrupt ally at the IIHF, another thorn in the Canadian side.

Canada of course was already withdrawn from international hockey including the Olympics because of these corrupt policies. The general Canadian reaction to the notion of removing hockey from the Olympics was "go ahead, try it!"

Dink Carroll wrote "(Brundage) will be doing this country a service if he can eliminate ice hockey from the Olympic Games . . . if hockey is eliminated from the Games, the last obstacle in the way of regular competition between the NHL and the Russians, Czechs and Swedes will have been eliminated. Mr. Brundage will have done us the service of making it possible for us to be represented by our best players against the best from other countries in international competition."

Brundage never succeeded in his silly movement. He would retire from his post at the IOC following the 1972 Olympic games. Amateur rules were slowly changed. Canada remained out of IIHF and IOC events until 1977, but created an international hockey scene of their own courtesy of the 1972 Summit Series, the Canada Cup tournaments and NHL (and WHA) exhibition games against the Soviets and Czechs.

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