Foreign hockey stars face threats after new Russian contracts
Hockey players from Sweden and Latvia have been warned they face ostracism from their respective national teams after agreeing new deals at Russian clubs in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).
It was reported this week that Swedish defenseman Robin Press, 27, had extended his contract with Severstal Cherepovets, based in Russia’s northwestern Vologda region.
Press represented his country for the first time last season, although hockey officials in Sweden have already suggested that he may not do so again because of his decision to remain in Russia.
“We think it’s remarkable and feels a bit strange,” Swedish Ice Hockey Association secretary general Johan Stark said of the decision by Press, according to Expressen.
The official suggested that the federation would make a decision on Press in the coming weeks, after announcing in May that any Swedes who “choose to play” in Russia would not be considered for international call-ups.
Stark added that there was a “very big difference” between Swedish players who choose to enter into new deals at Russian teams and those who were already locked into contracts which were agreed before the conflict broke out in Ukraine.
“That’s another matter. We know how complicated it is [to leave contracts]. If you have players who actively choose to sign contracts there, it’s remarkable if you’re talking based on the values and feelings that are around this,” said Stark.
Elsewhere, Latvia’s Miks Indrasis could face a similar fate to Press after joining Moscow club Spartak on a one-year deal.
The Latvian parliament, the Saeima, declared in late April that anyone from the country would be prohibited from taking part in competitions in Russia and Belarus, with punishment in the form of exile from national teams and exclusion from state funding.
Commenting on the case of Indrasis, who is a 10-year veteran of the national team, Latvian Ice Hockey Federation general secretary Roberts Plavejs said he had yet to discuss the issue with the player.
“The news was quite a surprise for me, like everyone else, but it would be too early to make more extensive comments,” said Plavejs in comments shared by sportazinas.com.
“Yesterday it was not possible to call Miks to find out the real situation. It was a surprise, but you can’t say that this news fell like snow on your head…
“If the reported fact results in real actions, Miks’ participation in the Latvian national team will certainly not be allowed,” he added.
Despite the declaration from the Saeima, Russian KHL team Admiral Vladivostok have announced that Latvian head coach Leonid Tambiev will continue to work with them next season.
In addition to Sweden and Latvia, the Finnish hockey authorities have said they will not select any Russia-based players for international duty.
Finnish club Jokerit, based in Helsinki, competed in the KHL last season but announced they were withdrawing from the league. Latvian team Dinamo Riga have also pulled out for the 2022/23 KHL campaign.
The issue of foreign stars facing the threat of punishment for playing in Russia is not exclusive to hockey.
The Polish football authorities announced earlier this month that national team defender Maciej Rybus would not be called up ahead of the 2022 Qatar World Cup after he opted to sign for Spartak Moscow.
In basketball, Swedish star Jonas Jerebko has been suspended from the national team after he signed for CSKA Moscow at the end of March.