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By Karolos Grohmann
BERLIN, March 29 The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has agreed to pay NHL players' travel and insurance costs to try to lure them to the 2018 Winter Olympics but team owners have set more commercial demands, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Wednesday.
The NHL and the international federation have been locked in talks over the world's best players' participation in next year's Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, with team owners frustrated by the forced shutdown of the season for two-and-a-half weeks.
Recent Winter Olympics have been preceded by the question of whether NHL players will take part, with negotiations often continuing right up to the eve of the event.
The IOC had covered those costs for the last five Games but said it would no longer do so for 2018. The IIHF stepped in and clearly hopes that a contribution that could run to up to $20 million will help resolve the situation.
For handing over a talent pool with contracts valued at $3.5 billion the NHL is seeking something akin to IOC Top Sponsor status which would allow the league to market the Winter Games on its platforms.
"Because of the interest of the Olympic movement to see the NHL players in the Olympic Games, the IIHF has ensured that the travel and insurance cost of the NHL players will be fully covered, as was the case in previous Olympic Games," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.
Adams told Reuters talks between the NHL and the IIHF were ongoing but the IOC would not be treating the NHL team owners any differently than other international sports federations it deals with.
"Obviously, this time the owners of the NHL clubs are putting more commercial conditions to the IOC and the Olympic movement," Adams said.
"The IOC has been informed the talks between the International Federation and the NHL are continuing.
"The IOC knows that the NHL understands that the Olympic movement cannot treat the owners of a commercial franchise of a national league better than an international sports federation or other professional leagues with regard to the Olympic Games."
Several players have said they will compete in the Olympics regardless of the NHL's decision and Japanese tyre maker Bridgestone, which is both an IOC Top Sponsor and major NHL advertiser, is also trying to help push a deal forward.
"We know that the players definitely want to play and the fans want to watch the best players in the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018," Adams said.
"These Games give the greatest worldwide exposure to the sport of ice hockey. The offer for the two Olympic Winter Games 2018 and 2022 remains on the table and we are still hopeful there will be an agreement in the interests of all."
(Editing by Mitch Phillips and Ed Osmond)