Hockey team warned over re-entry plans after quitting Russia
Ice hockey team Jokerit have been told they face tight controls to ensure they retain no ties to Russia before they are cleared to rejoin the domestic championship in Finland.
Jokerit previously played in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) but officially quit the Russia-based league in April after Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine.
The Helsinki-based team is aiming to rejoin Finland’s SM-liiga in the 2023-24 season but must first be given approval by the nation’s hockey authorities.
Particular debate has surrounded Jokerit general manager and owner Jari Kurri, who was on the KHL board before stepping down in April.
In a statement, Finnish hockey chiefs made it clear that no links whatsoever to the KHL or Russia would be permitted.
“We are positive about the Jokers’ project, but if the application is submitted, it will go through a tight sieve,” said SM-liiga chairman Heikki Hiltunen.
“We have clear and unambiguous criteria that must be met by everyone in order for the league to accept a new shareholder.
“We are open, but we are moving forward in moderation, step by step. In addition, all the legal aspects of a possible application for a league license and its possible approval will be clarified. There is no shortcut to the league and there will be no shortcut.”
SM-liiga CEO Kati Kivimaki added: “The shareholders' position is clear. All financial and ownership-related links with the Jokers’ previous KHL project must be broken. We are not going to accept any such link to Russia.”
Jokerit had played in the SM-liiga before opting to switch to the KHL in 2014.
The Finns were joined in quitting the Russian league by Latvian team Dinamo Riga, who also announced they would no longer be part of the KHL from the 2022-23 season onwards.
Links to Russian hockey have become a hot topic in several countries which have condemned the military campaign in Ukraine.
That has led to the likes of Latvian goaltender Janis Kalnins foregoing his future with the national team in favor of a contact at Russian club Amur Khabarovsk.
Elsewhere, countryman Miks Indrasis, a 10-year veteran of the Latvian national team, has been involved in a row with Russian club Spartak Moscow.
Spartak announced they had agreed a deal with Indrasis for next season, only for the player to deny those claims amid a backlash in his homeland.
Spartak have said they will settle the matter in court.
At a diplomatic level, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto recently told the media in Italy that he would no longer consider playing hockey with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, with the pair having previously taken to the ice together back in 2012.
The Kremlin responded by suggesting that would be no great loss for Putin, adding that the Russian leader has plenty of partners to make up the numbers whenever he plays hockey.