• Reuters

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China’s participation in the Beijing Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament remains uncertain, the head of the International Ice Hockey Federation said on Tuesday, with a final decision set for Nov. 25 and Norway waiting in the wings to step in as a replacement.

As the host nation, China is guaranteed a spot in every event at the 2022 Games but the IIHF said in September that the men’s team could be prevented from playing due to its “insufficient sporting standard.”

Fears that China will not be able to ice a competitive team have left the IIHF and the International Olympic Committee scrambling to find ways to avoid the embarrassment of having to drop the host nation from the competition or risk a string of equally humiliating blowout defeats.

With China apparently determined to take part in the men’s tournament, the IIHF Council confirmed earlier this month it would not seek to block the hosts from competing.

IIHF president Luc Tardif backtracked on Tuesday, saying that China’s participation would hinge on player eligibility rules and the play of the Kunlun Red Star, a China-based team stocked with Olympic hopefuls competing in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

A team of five IIHF observers are in Moscow to watch Kunlun play before report to the executive, which will make a decision based on performances as well as which players are actually eligible to represent China.

“On this we are onboard with IOC,” said Tardif, after speaking at the Primetime Sport management conference in Toronto. “I didn’t want to do a diplomatic earthquake alone just coming as the new president so we wanted to make sure we are on the same line with the IOC and that’s the case.

“It will be our (eligibility) rules and when I say our that’s IOC and IIHF.

“Norway is ready.”

In the first of the two contests on Monday, Red Star fought back from 4-0 down to lose 5-4 in overtime to Amur Khabarovsk.

The key to China playing in Beijing is likely to come down to eligibility requirements that would allow players like Red Star forward Brandon Yip, a Chinese-Canadian who spent parts of five seasons in the NHL, to get on the roster.

China’s restrictive nationality rules largely prevent them from pursuing players with dual citizenship.

The Beijing Winter Games are scheduled for Feb. 4-20.

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