Sacked Ukraine league manager says blamed for video of racist incident spreading

FILE PHOTO-HC Donbass player Jalen Smereck is seen during the Hockey Champions League match against HC Rouen Dragons in Rouen, France September 9, 2021. Picture taken September 9, 2021. HC Donbass press service/Handout via REUTERS

KYIV, Oct 1 (Reuters) - The former general manager of the Ukrainian Hockey League (UHL) told Reuters on Friday he was sacked for speaking out against racism and not preventing a video of a racist incident being published on the league's official website.

The video shocked the global hockey community this week in which a player in the UHL mimed peeling and eating a banana in a gesture directed towards a Black player during a match.

Evgeniy Kolychev said he was sacked by the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine for speaking out against racism. In a phone interview, he also echoed calls for tougher punishments for players found guilty of racist behaviour.

"I was accused of publishing a video on the league's website and spreading it all over the world," Kolychev said.

"And I did not interfere with the publication of the video. Indeed, I did not interfere with this because the League would not want to hide this fact."

Reuters could not independently verify his claims.

The hockey federation has not responded to requests for comment but on its website listed six reasons for Kolychev's dismissal, including "dissemination of false information that discredits the image of Ukrainian hockey in general".

HC Kremenchuk forward Andriy Deniskin was suspended for 13 games after he taunted HC Donbass defenceman Jalen Smereck, the only American player in the eight-team league. read more

"I am the only one who called Jalen," Kolychev said. "He felt bad. A stream of hate fell upon him.

"My position is absolutely clear: there is no place for racism in hockey. My dismissal is a banal reprisal against me because I did not want to hush up the fact of racist statements," Kolychev added.

Smereck said on Instagram he will not play another game in the UHL unless Deniskin is removed from the league, which is made up mostly of Ukrainian and Russian players. read more

Deniskin apologised on Instagram, saying he acted in the heat of the moment and that he respects all people regardless of race or nationality. He later deleted the post after coming under fire for being insincere.

Kolychev echoed calls for tougher punishment for racist incidents. Under the UHL's rules, only three games of Deniskin's 13-game ban are mandatory, and the player can avoid serving the remaining 10 games if the club pay a 50,000 hryvnia ($1,900) fine, or 5,000 hryvnia per game.

A 13-match suspension was not enough, Kolychev said, while acknowledging it was the maximum punishment under the league's regulations.

Kolychev said he was fired during a Zoom meeting with the hockey federation on Thursday after only a month in his job as general manager. He said the reasons given by the federation were an excuse to get rid of him.

"I wasn't even allowed to say a word. I concluded by saying that I thank you for not letting me speak. It was absolutely anti-democratic."

($1 = 26.6294 hryvnias)

Editing by Matthias Williams and Ken Ferris

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