Curiously, an eligibility conflict had erupted not involving any any of the Eastern European teams and their “amateur” players just a few days prior to the start of the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.
Canada and the United States, opponents on opening day of the ice hockey event, were engaged in a very public spat centered around professional players. It was rumored that the United States planned to formally protest the inclusion of four Canadian players who were alleged to have signed National Hockey League contracts. A prominent Canadian official, meanwhile, had insinuated that the Americans had “illegally” won the gold medal at Lake Placid in 1980.
Just two days before the Canada – United States match, the head of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, MURRAY COSTELLO, raised the bar by suggesting Canada could withdraw from the XIVth Winter Games if four players are ruled out on account of the American protest. Costello also stated what’s more, the United States, itself, had as many as four players on their own roster who were in violation of eligibility regulations. Costello did not name the Americans he was referring to, but it was reported that two were, in fact, returning Lake Placid veterans JOHN HARRINGTON and PHIL VERCHOTA.
“Nobody on our team signed a pro contract,” United States Olympic coach LOU VAIRO said at a press conference shortly after he and his charges had arrived by train via Vienna. “We have no ineligible players according to the rules.”
A spotlight was shining on four Canadians — DON DIETRICH, MARIO GOSSELIN, MARK MORRISON, DAN WOOD — all of whom actually put pen to the prohibited National Hockey League paper. A step further, Morrison had skated in no fewer than nine NHL games for the New York Rangers during the 1981-82 season. As far as the Canadians were concerned, however, all of this mattered none. The Canucks operated under NHL rules, which stated any player with less than 10 games played was an amateur, and claimed they had written authorization accepting this interpretation from the International Ice Hockey Federation.
And so, with a measure of confidence, the Canadians submitted their roster including the known “professionals” at the deadline to tournament officials. The United States never did formally challenge this. It was the Finns who, in the end, raised the fuss and filed the formal protest.
The International Olympic Committee, who, of course, presided over the Winter Games, took up the case with far-reaching and long-lasting consequences yet to come. This was the same I.O.C. who had made some strange decisions in the past, the concept of of a “unified” Germany at the Olympics from 1956 thru 1964 certainly comes to mind readily. And so, true to historical form, the I.O.C. at Sarajevo in 1984 did not disappoint those seeking a confusing conclusion.