Sarajevo, Yugoslavia — A heated dispute over the eligibility of several players has erupted on the eve of the 1984 Winter Olympic hockey competition, which begins Tuesday night. It started when the United States, defending the crown it won four years ago, threatened to protest against the presence of four Canadians, saying they should be barred as professionals because they had either played pro hockey or signed contracts to do so.
The Canadians, who play the United States in the opening round, claim the players should be allowed to take part because they all played less than 10 National Hockey League games which entitles them, under NHL rules, to retain their amateur status.
Canadian hockey officials also said the U.S. broke the rules in 1980 by including players who either had played professionally or secretly reached agreement with pro teams. And they warned they have a dossier on some of the present US squad for infringing the rules.
Finland also entered the arena, saying it planned to protest the presence of 10 players on various teams.
The Finns said one of their goalkeepers, who played two games in the NHL four years ago, was declared ineligible by the International Olympic Committee - and that if he is ruled out, the same should apply to others in the same situation. They listed players from Canada, Norway, Austria, Italy, and West Germany whose presence they planned to protest.
The dispute is expected to reach a head today when all teams submit their official 20-player rosters to the IOC, at which point the protests would be filed and it would be up to the IOC to decide the various questions.