In response to the International Olympic Committee’s continued indecision about whether to allow Russia to participate in next year’s Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, the KHL has threatened to make it exceedingly difficult for its international stars to compete.
“The IOC is dismantling the existing sports world order,” KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko said in a statement Saturday (via TASS), referring to what he considers unfair treatment of Russia in the wake of allegations that the country ran a state-sponsored doping program until last year. (Russia has denied the allegations.)
“Since the moment of its establishment and further on, the KHL complies with the rules of IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) and WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and does not tolerate doping as the entire sports community,” he added. “Nevertheless, we do not accept the situation when the IOC panders to informants and commissions and suspends athletes, not basing on solid facts proving doping abuse.”
Chernyshenko’s comments came just three days after the IOC gave lifetime bans to two Russian cross-country skiers, including an Olympic gold medalist, after concluding their samples from the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, had been tampered with. Neither skier was confirmed to have taken performance-enhancing drugs.
The disqualifications were roundly rejected in Russia, while many others see this and other evidence — including the scathing McLaren report, which alleges Russia’s state-sponsored program stems at least as far back as 2011 — as reason to ban Russia from participating at the Games in PyeongChang.
The IOC has said it plans to make its final decision about Russian participation in December. If the IOC bans the country from participating, it may still allow Russian athletes to compete, but they would have to do so based on a case-by-case basis and compete under a neutral flag, a situation Chernyshenko and others would still find unacceptable.
“[Russian President] Vladimir Putin at the recent meeting . . . underscored that the IOC is compelled either to force Russia to compete under a neutral flag or to ban it totally from the Olympics. Under each of these two scenarios, considerable damage will be inflicted on the Olympic movement,” he said. “The KHL is ready to provide a relevant response.”
As to what that response might be, KHL board member Alexander Medvedev told TASS (via the Associated Press) that it likely wouldn’t be an all-out ban but instead a lack of scheduling accommodation, similar to the policy imposed by the NHL, which decided in April not to disrupt its schedule to accommodate its stars’ participation.
“The KHL won’t talk about a ban (on players going to the Olympics), but about reviewing the calendar,” Medvedev said. “In that case, contracted players won’t be able to go anywhere. Legally, it’s absolutely permitted. If Russia isn’t taking part in the games, then there’s no sense in having a break (in the KHL season).”
IOC officials likely won’t take kindly to the KHL effectively disallowing its players from participating in the Games. After the NHL made its announcement, the IOC slammed the decision, which was made partly because the IOC refused to pay the NHL to allow players to participate.
“It is not sufficient for the NHL to be content with plucking the low-hanging financial fruit but to fail to invest in the future of the game,” IOC senior member Dick Pound wrote in an op-ed published in the Montreal Gazette. “The second issue is the NHL’s decision to actively prohibit individual players, who want to represent their countries at the Olympic Games, from doing so.
“Aside from being heavy-handed and an abuse of its economic power, it is disrespectful to the rights and dreams of those players.”