Sarajevo ’84 : The Death Of Shamateurism (Pt 7)

Canadian center CAREY WILSON (20) is hampered from behind by his counterpart, Czechoslovak center VLADIMIR RUZICKA, as JIRI HRDINA (24) looks on at the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. Czechoslovakia, the eventual silver medalists, defeated Canada 4-0 on the final day of Group B round-robin play. Wilson, who played two years of college hockey at Dartmouth before spending the season prior to Sarajevo in Finland's elite league with IFK Helsinki, scored three goals on opening day in Canada's 4-2 defeat of the defending gold medalist United States.

Canadian center CAREY WILSON (20) is hampered from behind by his counterpart, Czechoslovak center VLADIMIR RUZICKA, as JIRI HRDINA (24) looks on at the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. Czechoslovakia, the eventual silver medalists, defeated Canada 4-0 on the final day of Group B round-robin play. Wilson, who played two years of college hockey at Dartmouth before spending the season prior to Sarajevo in Finland's elite league with IFK Helsinki, scored three goals on opening day in Canada's 4-2 defeat of the defending gold medalist United States.

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If the player eligibility controversy surrounding the 1984 Sarajevo Games had no impact on the ice hockey tournament itself, its legacy was unmistakable.

The International Olympic Committee had made a genuine mess of the affair. Some of the Canadian players who had already signed contracts with National Hockey League clubs were allowed to participate at the Sarajevo Games, some were expelled. A few players who had already played in the NHL were tossed from the tourney, yet, a pair of NHL alumni managed to sneak through the cracks and compete somehow. The same double-standard was applied with respect to those who had played in the minor leagues as a part of NHL organizations.

Lying just beneath the surface in Sarajevo was another Pandora’s box as the domestic leagues of Western Europe were becoming more and more professional all the time. West German clubs, for example, had been importing Finnish and Swedish internationals, not to mention veteran Czechoslovaks with their government’s clearance, since the beginning of the 1970s. By the end of the decade, clubs in countries such as Austria, Italy and Switzerland, as well as West Germany, were routinely recruiting former NHL players in addition to international elite.

Had not West German international star ERICH KUEHNHACKL turned down the NHL’s New York Rangers in the late 1970s to remain at home in the Bundesliga?

Meanwhile, many top Finns crossed the border in Scandinavia to skate for Swedish clubs for obvious reasons.

The traditional definitions of professional and amateur had been stretched to the breaking point in the contemporary world at Sarajevo. The pre-tournament affair had done enough to expose the inequity of the Olympic system, if not by design. There was, in the end, only one solution available to the I. O. C. to restore a credible and competitive balance for all the nations of the ice hockey world.

The ice hockey tournament to be held in Calgary, Canada, would be open to all players.

With that, the term “shamateurism”, ceased to be of any relevant use and faded into the background of international hockey history.

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