Have you confirmed exactly which teams will take part in next season’s championship? When will the Board of Directors meet to decide about this?
First, let me reiterate that the KHL’s number priority is, and will always be, the health of everyone involved in the league — players, coaches, club staff and fans. Everybody wants to get back to normal as soon as possible, with the players back on the ice and the supporters back in the arenas to cheer their heroes on. In region, the health situation is improving and, step-by-step, we are relaxing the restrictions. But the KHL is an international league and we have to take into account the situation affecting our member clubs in other countries.
At present we are still working towards a start date of Sep. 2 for the new season. Despite the current difficulties, all our clubs are getting ready to return to action and all of them have drawn up a pre-season program. Soon, the Board of Directors will have another online meeting. There are objective explanations for the delay] in finalizing details of the season], and the pandemic is one of the main reasons.
In a previous interview, you said that the clubs would receive up-to-date instructions about measures to control the spread of the virus. Have those instructions been sent out?
Yes, we’ve drawn up our new guidelines and sent them to Russia’s public health authority for review. When we have a reply, we’ll make any adjustments necessary and send the new guidance to all our clubs. We’ll also publish the requirements in full on the official KHL website.
Can the clubs implement these requirements in full, especially when many training sessions will take place in large groups indoors?
The guidance is exhaustive, it gives a detailed assessment of different situations that might arise during training, including that one. I’m sure that the clubs will do all they can to ensure safe distancing between players. And let’s not forget that before the clubs can go back to training, all of the players will be tested [for the virus].
Might we see further changes to the league’s regulations in connection with the pandemic?
These guidelines will remain in force as an addition to our standard regulations for as long they are needed. It’s possible that in the future, based on this experience of working in extreme circumstances, we might make permanent changes to some of our regulations with a view to protecting the health of everyone involved in the championship.
What is the current situation with imports returning to their clubs?
As we’ve discussed in the past, for the past month and a half the KHL has been actively working alongside the Ministry of Sport, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russian government. And the clubs have also made great efforts to enable their imports to come to Russia. As a result, we’ve managed to bring the vast majority of foreign players to their teams, flying them in on charter flights so they can start training as planned.
How many KHL players have tested positive for COVID-19?
We’ve already announced that two players from Severstal have the disease. In addition, one player at Spartak and three at Torpedo tested positive. A player from Amur was hospitalized with pneumonia and the two team-mates who roomed with him have been isolated. However, those three were not in contact with other members of the team. I’d also point out that none of the three have tested positive for coronavirus.
In Kazakhstan there are reports of a second wave of the pandemic. Is it possible that Barys will have to withdraw from next season?
We’re paying close attention to events in Kazakhstan, just as in every other KHL country. It’s clear that the situation in Kazakhstan is complicated. However, Barys has not announced that it will withdraw from the championship. We have a little more than a month and a half to the start of the season. I believe that there is time for Kazakhstan to suppress the second wave of the virus. It’s possible the club will have to revise its pre-season preparations, in particular delaying the start of the first training camp. Nonetheless, Barys is not planning to cancel any of its pre-season program, including the traditional President of Kazakhstan Cup tournament.
Given the uncertainty for several of the foreign clubs in the league, could there be a delay in announcing the fixtures for next season (currently due by July 19)?
We’re still working towards that date, although there isn’t a lot of time left. But we need to keep in mind that everything is dictated by external circumstances and it’s entirely possible that we’ll have to tweak that date a little bit.
Remember that starting from this season, much of the work to establish the schedule is automated and the initial schedule are drawn up by specially developed software. Then, of course, there are certain specifics that we need to incorporate manually. This season we’re in a unique situation and I’m sure that the clubs and fans will understand if it takes a little longer than usual to present the full calendar. The main thing is to ensure that the final schedule is as good as possible and respects the interests of all concerned.
In any event, our progress depends on the situation around the pandemic and the decisions taken by Federal and Regional authorities across Russia. Thus, we need to be ready for anything — including amending the calendar as we go along to account for changing circumstances.
We already have information about many of the pre-season tournaments — when and where they will be staged, who will take part. Can we say if any of them will take place behind closed doors?
I think we will leave that for the clubs to decide. It’s entirely possible that some tournaments will choose to go ahead behind closed doors based on the health situation in the region. Others might follow the example of the football league and limit the numbers of spectators to allow for social distancing. Ultimately, pre-season is a time for clubs to explore not just their tactics on the ice, but also other matters that we might encounter during the season.
Recently, the Ministry of Sport published a plan to introduce new legislation. The law would oblige athletes under the age of 23 to pay compensation to the clubs where they started their careers before moving abroad. How do you feel about this proposal?
The Ministry of Sport asked us to submit our proposals about specific issues concerning the training of young athletes, and the mechanism for compensating sports schools for the cost of that training. There were separate proposals incorporated into the bill.
In general, of course, the KHL is keen to see young hockey players stay in Russia, develop into stars and excite fans here. I am sure we have every opportunity to do this. Every year we see how the clubs are improving their academies and sports schools. As a league, the KHL devotes a lot of attention to ensuring that promising young players do not get lost in the system and, after graduating through the Junior Hockey League, get their chance to play at the highest level. We see more and more examples of this every year.
Recent media reports suggest that a number of clubs are facing financial problems. Is there any truth in these reports?
In the current situation many, almost all, are facing difficulties. And KHL clubs are no expection. Some were forced to quickly reduce their budgets. At present, though, the confirmed funding for all our clubs is sufficient for them to compete — specifically, they can meet the required salary floor. Cost reductions can be made elsewhere, perhaps by reviewing other contracts. Clubs must rebalance their budgets to account for the new situation.
There have been problems at Dinamo Minsk and Dinamo Riga, as well as Amur and Vityaz. Both Dinamo teams have almost solved their problems.
Are there any clubs that still owe money to players from last season?
Unfortunately, yes. There are clubs that have still failed to fulfil all their contractual obligations from last season. In total there are five, but only two of them — Amur and Vityaz — give cause for concern. Vityaz already submitted a repayment schedule and we are following that closely. With Amur, things are more complicated and there is little clarity at the moment. The Board of Directors will discuss this at the next meeting and make a final decision on which teams will compete next season. But I am sure we can resolve this problem together, despite the obvious difficulties we are all facing.
The coming season will be the first under the hard salary cap. Might some clubs encounter technical problems in respect of this, and how will the KHL be able to help them?
We understand. Even though the regulations and the framework for a step-by-step introduction of a salary cap were established and published long ago, some clubs may encounter difficulties. Our Department of Inspection and Control, and our Central Information Bureau, both carried out tremendous work in this area. In January we confirmed the system to control the cap and adjusted several articles that were not taken into account when calculating the cap.
Then we drew up a new mechanism between the league and the clubs to regulate the new conditions. This covers interaction between our internal systems, such as the Central Information Bureau. We have set up automated systems to calculate the ceiling and trained specialists to deal with these issues at each club. Our work under the new system is already underway.