National Hockey League teams playing in Prague next month have been told their Russian players are not welcome.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has told the NHL of its position due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The department declined to say whether the NHL responded.
The Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks will play regular season games Oct. 7-8 at the O2 Arena in Prague. Travel rosters haven’t been finalized, but Nashville has forward Yakov Trenin in its roster, while San Jose has forward Evgeny Svechnikov. Defender Nikolai Knyzhov will not be available for the Sharks due to injury.
“We can confirm that the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent a letter to the NHL to emphasize that, for the time being, Czechia or any other state in the (visa-free) Schengen zone should not issue visas to Russian players for walk in. our territory,” Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Smolek said in a statement.
The ministry added that it had informed the league “about ongoing negotiations on banning entry to citizens of the Russian Federation who had previously received valid visas”.
The ministry said a ban on Russian athletes in sporting events in European Union countries had also been recommended by European Union sports ministers.
Czechia was one of the first countries in the European Union to no longer issue visas to Russian nationals after the invasion of Ukraine in February. Exceptions include humanitarian cases and people persecuted by the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The NHL returns to Europe for its first games outside North America since the start of the pandemic.
In addition to the two games in Prague, the Colorado Avalanche and the Columbus Blue Jackets will play two more in Tampere, Finland, November 4-5. The Finnish government’s position on Russian players was not immediately clear.
Czech NHL great Dominik Hasek has led the opposition to Russian players coming to Prague since the games were announced in April. Hasek has approached the upper house of parliament, the senate, the government and the foreign ministry about it.
“It’s very important for the support of our Ukrainian ally and the safety of our citizens,” Hasek said in an interview for a Russian broadcaster. After it was not aired in Russia, he published it in Czech media.
“Yes, we don’t want any promotion of Russian aggression here,” Hasek posted on Twitter after the decision of the ministry. “We protect our lives and those of our allies in the first place.”