In wake of Denyskin suspension, GM of UHL says he was fired after anti-racism comments

The IIHF has condemned the racist on-ice gestures which were made by Ukrainian Hockey League player Andrei Deniskin during a game on Sunday.

In the wake of the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine suspending Andrei Denyskin for a blatantly racist gesture, Eugene Kolychev, the general manager of the Ukraine Hockey League in which the incident took place, says he has been fired by the Federation.

“I have spoken openly about #racism in Ukrainian hockey and the Ukrainian Hockey Federation FIRED me as General Manager of the #UHL today,” Kolychev wrote on Twitter. “Will it solve the problem? No. Will it silence me? NO!”

Though Kolychev’s statement appears to imply he was fired over his anti-racism comments, no statement by the league has been issued at this time and the cause of his alleged dismissal has not yet been able to be independently confirmed.

Requests made by Sportsnet for comment from the UHL and the Federation were not immediately answered.

“My voice has been ignored in the decision over the penalty against Andrei [Denyskin], who showed a racist gesture to [Jalen Smereck],” Kolychev wrote on Twitter. “I am publicly appealing to the [IIHF] to conduct its own investigation of the incident and help #endracism. Jalen, we got your back!”

The incident between Denyskin and Smereck occurred in the second period of a Sept. 26 game between HC Donbass, who Smereck plays for, and Denyskin’s club, HC Kremenchuk. During a stoppage in play, Denyskin shouted at Smereck, who is Black, and then mimed unpeeling a banana and eating it. He was ejected from the game.

Video of the incident did not capture what preceded it but, when speaking with Greg Wyshynski of ESPN, Smereck dispelled rumours there had been an altercation between him and Denyskin. Instead, Smereck recalled a scrum taking place between one of his teammates and Denyskin, who was “on top of him” and “threw four or five punches while [Smereck’s teammate] was on the ground.” When Smereck tried to intervene, he said, one of his teammates and a linesman grabbed him.

“I don’t know if [Denyskin] understood what I said,” Smereck told Wyshynski. “I don’t know if he speaks English. It was just me telling him to fight me. And then he responded with that.”

Denyskin later addressed what happened on Instagram, saying it was “a gesture that someone can consider as an insult in race” that he made after his emotions got the best of him. Denyskin went on to claim he respects “all people regardless of race or nationality.” Denyskin has since deleted the post.

The Federation, which handles disciplinary matters in the Ukraine, suspended Denyskin for three games, a mandatory suspension for receiving a match penalty, as well as a 10-game ban — the maximum allowable under the Federation’s rules — for when a player uses gestures or expressions “related to racial discrimination.”

An initial statement following the Federation’s ruling from Kolychev indicated Denyskin had been banned for “3 + 10 games (or a fine of ₴50 000),” suggesting Denyskin could pay what amounted to $2,386.85 CAD to negate the 10-game suspension. Neither the UHL nor the Federation have publicly clarified if this is the case.

“The Ukrainian Hockey League and I stand with Jalen Smereck and thank all of the fans and media who have offered their support to him,” Kolychev wrote after the suspension was announced. “The [UHL] believes that there is no place for racism in the world in which we live, let [alone] in the hockey community.”

One day before the Federation announced its decision, Smereck posted on Instagram saying he would “not play another game in the [Ukrainian Hockey League] until Andrey Denyskin is suspended and removed from the league.”

Backlash to the Federation’s suspension, which was widely chastised for being too lenient, came quick.

Donbass urged the governing body to take a stricter approach in its handling of the case, writing on Twitter that they demanded “a reconsideration of the decision.”

Akim Aliu, the chair of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, wrote on Twitter: “This is a complete embarrassment. How are we as POC ever supposed to trust the system when at every turn it fails to protect us. On and OFF the ice.”

Further punishment could still be doled out by the IIHF, which condemned Denyskin’s racist act, calling it “a direct assault on the ideals and values of our game.”

“There is no place for such a blatantly racist and unsportsmanlike gesture in our sport and in society,” Luc Tardif, the new president of the IIHF, said in a statement. “We will ensure that all necessary ethics violation investigations occur to ensure that this behaviour is sanctioned appropriately.”

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