The current Russia-Ukraine conflict is a controversial situation that has shocked the world. It has continued to gain worldwide attention and has affected all areas of life. As noted in “The Impact of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine on International Sporting Events,” the conflict has also had major effects on the world of sports. Specifically, the sport of hockey has been impacted and there could be long term consequences as a result of this conflict.
Even before the IIHF and the NHL spoke on the matter, many personalities in the game of hockey publicly condemned Russia’s actions. Wayne Gretzky, arguably the greatest hockey player ever, spoke out publicly against Russia, stating, “I think international hockey should say, ‘We’re not gonna let them play in the world junior hockey tournament.’ I think we got to, as Canadians, take that stance since the games are going to be played in Edmonton.”
Similarly, all-time hockey great Dominik Hasek spoke out, publicly condemning Russia and Putin, and even speaking out against current NHL superstar Alex Ovechkin. Speaking about Ovechkin and the conflict, he said, “What!? Not only an alibist, a chicken shit, but also a liar! Every adult in Europe knows well, that Putin is a mad killer and Russia is waging an offensive war against the free country and its people.” Hasek went even further, stating, “The NHL must immediately suspend contracts for all Russian players! Every athlete represents not only himself and his club, but also his country and its values and actions. That is a fact. If the NHL does not do so, it has indirect co-responsibility for the dead in Ukraine.”
On February 28, 2022, the NHL officially released a statement regarding the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The statement read, “The National Hockey League condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and urges a peaceful resolution as quickly as possible. Effective immediately, we are suspending our relationships with our business partners in Russia and we are discontinuing any consideration of Russia as a location for any future competitions involving the NHL.” Further, the NHL plans to pull its games from Russian-based Internet company Yandex, which airs the league’s games live and on demand, for the “foreseeable future.” Finally, the NHL will also put its relationship with Russia betting partner Liga Stavok on hold.
Also, on February 28, 2022, The IIHF released a statement in relation to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The IIHF announced it has banned the Russian and Belarusian nation teams and clubs from participation “in every age category” and in IIHF competitions “until further notice.” It will be moving the 2023 World Junior Championship from Russia, which was to be played in Novosibirsk and Omsk. IIHF President Luc Tardif stated, “[t]he IIHF is not a political entity and cannot influence the decisions being taken over the war in Ukraine. We nevertheless have a duty of care to all of our members and participants and must therefore do all we can to ensure that we are able to operate our events in a safe environment for all teams taking part in the IIHF World Championship program.” In 2022 alone, there are six international hockey events, and no Russian team will be able to participate in any of them.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict has also affected European hockey. Two teams have withdrawn from the KHL in protest of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Jokerit, the KHL team based in Finland, withdrew from the Gagarin playoffs in protest, and days later, Dinamo Riga, the KHL team in Latvia, also withdrew in protest. Further, the Finnish Ice Hockey Association removed the symbols of the Finnish national team from the Hartwall Arena, the arena where Jokerit plays. “The Finnish Ice Hockey Federation condemns Russia’s actions in Ukraine . . . As an urgent measure, the Ice Hockey Federation has decided to lower the Lviv jerseys and champion pennants from under the arches of the Hartwall Arena, which is currently located at Hartwall Arena. Their future location will be determined at a later date.”
It will be interesting to see what the long-term effects of this worldwide conflict will be. How long will the ban of Russia and Belarus from international hockey last? What would happen if the NHL does suspend the contracts of Russian players, like Hasek urged the league to do? If the NHL were to suspend the contracts of Russian players, the players would likely respond with lawsuits against the league. Further, would it be fair to suspend the contracts of Russian players simply because of their nationality? If the NHL were to successfully suspend the contracts of Russian players, and they returned to play at home, in the KHL, would they ever return to the NHL if the suspension was lifted? Hockey as a sport will have to decide the answers to these questions and it will be interesting to see the continuing impact on the sport as the Russia-Ukraine conflict continues.