Scandal would spread to Italy

POINT/COUNTERPOINT -- SHOULD WAYNE GRETZKY STEP ASIDE FROM THE OLYMPICS? SUN MEDIA COLUMNIST STEVE SIMMONS SAYS: YES

TURIN -- Wayne Gretzky always has put the interests of Canadian hockey ahead of his own -- and now, more than ever, he should make the difficult decision and do it once again.

He should stay home rather than accompany Team Canada to the Winter Olympics.

For the good of his beloved Team Canada. For the good of the Olympic Games.

For the good of his well-protected name.

Gretzky should stay home until his wife's name -- and his, by association -- is cleared in the gambling scandal that now rocks professional hockey.

He should stay home, not as a favour to the Canadian Olympic team, but to protect it.

He should step aside for Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini and Bob Nicholson -- all of whom are quite capable of being team leader -- and remove himself from the Olympic equation.

That's the difficult step to take right now. And probably the right one.

Should Gretzky arrive as planned early next week in his role as executive director of Team Canada, he will not simply be transporting his legendary self from one hockey universe to another, he will be transporting a scandal from one continent to another.

He will be spreading a hockey virus.

Like it or not, Wayne Gretzky is a story wherever he goes.

He just doesn't want to be this kind of story -- and he'll be doing a disservice to the team and more so, a disservice to the Olympics at large by dragging dirty hockey business -- even if he is not involved in that business -- into a world that traditionally has its own laundry issues to deal with.

Under normal circumstances, Gretzky would arrive here and be asked about such illuminating subjects such as Scott Niedermayer's knee and Bryan McCabe's power-play potential. He would be asked if Canada can repeat and if this team is good enough -- just not now.

Now, he will be asked about his hand-picked assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes and dear friend, Rick Tocchet, who has some explaining to do.

Now, he will be asked about his wife Janet's possible involvement in the legal investigation that encompasses Tocchet -- and how he appeared to distance himself from her with his answer.

Now he will be asked about an apparently dirty cop and about gambling in hockey, even if it's far away from him. And before you know it, Dick Pound, who can't help but comment on anything and everything, may insist that 30% of all NHL players gamble on professional sports, even if he has no proof of that matter.

These are, after all, the Olympic Games and normally we Canadians follow a certain protocol. We usually don't have our scandals until the Games begin. This year, we seem to be ahead of schedule.

We are starting our scandals before the opening ceremony.

But in this case, Gretzky has the kind of power to control the spread of this nasty story. The kind of power he enjoys and deserves. The kind of power he should take advantage of.

That is because eventually some of this, guilt by association, has to make him seem less than clean. And if that sticks, then someone who has gotten away with making choices that don't project the kind of image Gretzky has worked his whole life at, will find that more sticks.

Eventually, a man is judged by the company he keeps. Nelson Skalbania, the first owner to sign Gretzky to a professional contract, spent two years in prison for financial misappropriation. His next owner, Peter Pocklington, was scandal-ridden during his ownership of an Alberta company. After that, his Los Angeles friend, Bruce McNall, went to jail for defrauding banks of no less than $240 million US.

Now Rick Tocchet. Maybe his wife.

The list is growing. As large as he may be, Wayne Gretzky isn't bigger than Canadian hockey. For now, he should distance himself from the Olympic team he loves and allow the team to live without him.