IOC 'feels very sorry for athletes' after NHL denies Winter Olympics break

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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says it "feels very sorry for the athletes" who will be unable to compete at Pyeongchang 2018 after the NHL opted against putting a break in the next regular season.

The NHL announced on Monday it will opt against facilitating its players from participating at next year's Winter Olympic Games in South Korea by refusing to place the 2017-18 campaign on hold.

It is a decision the IOC branded "regrettable", though it remains confident a "very exciting" ice hockey tournament will still take place.

"This must be a huge disappointment for the players who definitely wanted to play at the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018. The IOC feels very sorry for the athletes," an IOC statement read.

"The decision is even more regrettable, as the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) had offered the same conditions to the NHL as at previous Olympic Games, where the insurance and travel costs were covered.

"The IOC, which distributes 90 per cent of its revenue for the development of sport in the world, obviously cannot treat a national commercial league better than not-for-profit International Sports Federations which are developing sport globally.   

"The ice hockey tournament at the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018 will nonetheless be a very exciting one, because the players from all the other professional ice hockey leagues and their athletes will participate, and will be very much welcomed by their Olympic teams."

NHL players have been part of the Winter Games since Nagano 1998.

Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, for one, has long vowed to play for Russia in Pyeongchang in 2018 regardless of the NHL's stance on the matter, and team owner Ted Leonsis has said he will not stand in the player's way.

The risk of injury is a key factor in the motivation to keep NHL players out of the games, particularly after New York Islanders captain John Tavares suffered a season-ending knee injury at Sochi 2014.