Alexei Alexeyevich, pre-season is coming to an end. How do you think it went?
Everyone is well aware of the problems faced by the league and our clubs. The pandemic and the associated restrictions were a true test of our strength. Some teams had to place several players in quarantine, and nearly every club had to change its pre-season plans.
But even with all these problems, there is a lot of good news. Our teams are stronger because of the salary cap. They have brought interesting imports and promising youngsters are emerging. It all points to an exciting, intriguing championship. We’ve found answers to almost every problem and we are in the process of dealing with the last few questions. The main thing is that the KHL is ready for the start of the season.
Have all the arenas been inspected? Were there any venues that had problems?
This summer we went back to our practice of visiting arenas in person. At the moment, that’s part of [KHL chief referee] Alexei Anisimov’s responsibilities. His department drew up a schedule for these inspections and, since July 21, got on with that important task. They started with a visit to Mytishchi, where Kunlun Red Star will play this season. Every club had some comments and suggestions and the KHL imposed deadlines to resolve anything that does not comply with our regulations. We will enforce those deadlines strictly. Everything must be ready to go before the start of the championship.
Can you give us a precise number of infected players at present?
According to the figures for August 30, a total number of 116 KHL players have tested positive for COVID. Of those, 54 have already recovered and are back in training. It’s worth noting that among those who were sick, everyone had a mild infection. They were all under constant observation from their clubs’ doctors and the KHL’s medical service also monitored their condition.
How are the KHL’s COVID-19 regulations being implemented?
One of the most important points in the regulations is the creation of ‘clean zones’ in every arena. This is a really important point because every arena is designed differently. The clubs and the league staff assessed each venue individually and worked out the best solution for every building. A few days before the start of the season we can say with confidence that every arena has a clearly-defined ‘clean zone’ and everyone working there understands the rules.
During the pre-season tournaments several clubs had a chance to implement the new rules, at least in part. Of course, there are fundamental changes from previous years. Even so, the overall picture is positive — everybody understands their responsibilities and is ready to work to the new requirements.
We also held a video conference with representatives of all the clubs, and a separate conversation with media representatives and TV broadcasters.
I think the main challenge in this situation is to ensure that we all work together without looking back to the past. If we all work together in a coherent manner under the new conditions, we will be able to complete a full season.
What’s the situation with Kunlun Red Star? Has the club resolved all the problems around its move?
The situation is being resolved. In the next few days, the club’s foreign players and staff will be able to get Russian visas. It’s true that the team will have to start the season from scratch, but all parties have done everything in their power to speed up the paperwork. I’d like to thank the Russian Ministry of Sport and the government staff who have helped us throughout the summer.
Arena Mytishchi has been inspected and preparations are underway to get it ready to stage games from mid-September.
And Kunlun Red Star has a professional coaching staff, the team will be able to compete in the KHL this season.
And what about imports? Are all the players with their clubs, or are there some who are unable to cross the border?
At the present time, almost all the foreign players and coaches contracted to Russian clubs in the KHL have joined up with their teams. There are few isolated cases left, and we are working these out one by one.
How have you ensured that teams can cross the border to compete in other countries? Will there be any problems association with this?
Let’s take it in order. First, on Aug. 26, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin signed an order that abolishes restrictions for foreign coaches and athletes coming to Russia to compete in international competition. So, the question about how foreigners could come to Russia disappeared.
Another question remains: how can clubs leave Russia to play in other countries, or travel between other countries? Currently, there is an ongoing process of issuing invitations and multi-entry visas to players, coaches and staff of KHL teams, allowing them unhindered movement across the borders. For the time being, we’ll do it this way: a list of the members of each team and details of time and place of each border crossing will be shared with the relevant state authorities. We trialled this scheme in the summer, and there were no problems.
I’d also point out that this is the only way forward when the borders are almost completely closed. I’d like to thank everyone involved for the tremendous job the KHL and the state authorities have done to make this possible.
Recently the media reported on fans in Finland appealing for Jokerit not to play its upcoming game in Minsk. What are your thoughts about this?
Dinamo Minsk is a full member of the KHL and it abides by the rules that govern all of our clubs. The league is in constant contact with the club; Dinamo has sent a letter guaranteeing the safety of any team traveling to Belarus to play.
Dinamo went through a full pre-season, played several exhibition games, and competed at the Salei Cup. Several foreign players have joined the team. At present, I see no reason why visiting teams should cancel their trip to Minsk. Hockey is all about respect.
What’s the situation with fans in the arenas? Do we have a full picture of how different regions will allow spectators into the games?
Our position hasn’t changed. Hockey is a spectator sport and we need to let the fans into the arenas. We have to follow the recommendations of the various regional authorities and also see how many fans can be allowed into the arenas while complying with all the necessary safety measures. This is a priority for all our clubs and they themselves are looking for the best solution. According to the information we have on August 30, games will have to take place without spectators in Kazakhstan, Cherepovets and Novosibirsk. In other places, the capacity varies. We don’t have — and cannot have — a universal formula. In the last few days several clubs have already explained how they will operate, how many season tickets have been sold or remain to be sold and how many tickets will be available to purchase.
What are you expecting from the coming season?
This will be the first time we have a hard salary cap in place. Even now, it’s clear how this has affected the make-up of the rosters; many teams have strengthened and the playing field is levelling. We expect to see a more competitive environment, with tighter, more entertaining games and more excitement for the fans. Like everyone, I’ve missed hockey, and like every fan, I can’t wait for the new season to start.