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Friday, August 12, 2022
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Better Long Overdue Than Never?


The IIHF came out with an announcement today that legitimately feels like it’s long overdue. Maybe I’m holding the IIHF to too high a standard here, but you’d think they’d make a disciplinary ruling a lot sooner than five months after an incident happened, but why rush the process, right? If you’ll excuse my sarcasm, the IIHF’s ruling today was necessary, but insanely late. If this was a library, they’d have bought not only the book, but the reprint and the movie with the late fees they accumulated.

Back on September 26, 2021, you may recall that Ukrainian hockey player Andri Denyskin of HC Kremenchuk in the Ukrainian Hockey League made a clearly racist gesture towards Jalen Smereck, an African-American hockey player, who was playing with HC Donbass in the league. The Ukrainian League was quick to issue a 13-game suspension and a fine that amounted to about $ 2400 in Canadian funds on Denyskin for his disgusting incident, and the IIHF was made aware of Denyskin’s idiotic gesture and were quick to denounce his actions in the game.

If a 13-game break and a $ 2400 fine seem a little light for being racist on the ice towards another player, you’re not alone. The hockey community wanted harsher sanctions issued against Denyskin and, possibly, the UHL for the proverbial slap on the wrist that Denyskin received. IIHF President Luc Tardif spoke out about the IIHF felt about the incident.

“The IIHF condemns in the strongest possible terms the actions of Andri Denyskin,” Tardif said in a statement. “There is no place for such a blatantly racist and unsportsmanlike gesture in our sport and in society. We will ensure that all necessary ethics violation investigations occur to ensure that this behavior is sanctioned appropriately.”

Since then, there has not been a peep from the IIHF on the incident, leaving a number of people, including Jalen Smereck, questioning the IIHF’s overseeing of the game. Rightfully so, if it looked like nothing was being done for the last five months, I do not blame anyone for questioning the IIHF’s commitment to making this game a better place for all, especially people of color. This was a highly-publicized incident that needed a further look from hockey’s international governing body.

It should be noted that the IIHF has no authority to change the suspension or fine levied by the league on Denyskin, so the IIHF was going to have to be a little creative in its punishment if it was going to implement more sanctions on the player. Surprisingly, they came forward with those sanctions today – five months after condemning the incident! – as the punishment issued may force players to use their heads before doing something stupid in the future.

The IIHF Disciplinary Board issued a one-year suspension to Ukraine men’s national team player Andri Denyskin, banning the player from any international competition sanctioned by the IIHF for that time. That suspension extends to exhibition games, friendly games, or games of a similar nature with another IIHF Member National Association, and it will certainly keep him from playing for Ukraine at the 2022 IIHF World Championship Division-I, Group B tournament happening in Katowice, Poland from April 25 to May 1.

A one-year ban from international competition can be detrimental to a developing country’s players, but it’s not like Denyskin isn’t playing domestically. I know the IIHF issued this penalty thinking that they’re being fair, but I’m not sure I agree with this decision when Denyskin’s actions probably should have excluded him from further participation at the international level. However, I’m not the IIHF.

The IIHF did offer the following reasoning for the length of time it took to come to this decision in their statement today, writing,

“The length of time taken for the Board to come to a decision in the Denyskin case was due in large part to the fact that, as required by the new IIHF Council term, a new IIIHF Ethics Board and Disciplinary Board had to be appointed following the IIHF Council elections that took place during the 2021 IIHF Semi-Annual Congress in September. “

I’ll grant the IIHF these appointments, but it’s not like Luc Tardif does not carry a big stick when it comes to handing out punishment. I do not know what the rules are regarding what he can and can not do, but I can not see the IIHF President not having the power to suspend a player for an incident he already publicly condemned. If the IIHF is working “by the letter of the law”, though, I suppose they got it right despite the long delay.

The good news is that Denyskin finally got the punishment he deserved, albeit still not being enough in my view. His suspension would, in theory, suspend him from international competition until February 22, 2023 if the suspension kicks in from the ruling issued today, and it should be noted that there was no mention of retroactively backdating the suspension to September 2021.

The bad news is that Denyskin will potentially be able to play in international competitions again starting in February 2023. While I get that he apologized to Smereck, the fact is that he immediately chose a racist gesture to confront Smereck, and that should count for something when it comes to how Denyskin may react in the future. I’m not here to sink a guy’s career by any means, but I do think that his racist gesture should cost him the ability to compete on the international stage in the future. We’ll see what happens as it may turn out that Ukraine does not include him on future teams in IIHF events, but play and his ability to stay out of trouble will go a long way in determining that.

What is very clear is that racism has no place in this game or, in a bigger sense, in life. The IIHF made a strong ruling today in suspending Andri Denyskin for one calendar year, and they established a precedent for future incidents of racism seen in the game. That might be the biggest takeway from today’s ruling – there is now an established punishment for racist gestures.

If we never see another racist gesture in hockey, we’re better off and the five-month wait might be easier to justify. That, in the end, is the hope I hold on to so that we do not have anything like happen in this game again.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!



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