Andy Potts Andy Potts
KHL press office KHL press office
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KHL President Alexei Morozov gave an exclusive interview, answering the big questions about the progress of the league season during the pandemic.

How do you assess the overall situation? Doesn’t it feel like it’s getting out of control?

You can see for yourself that this is a complicated situation. But it is by no means out of our control. And here I would like to express my gratitude to our clubs and their directors, who have shown great understanding of the position we are in. Players are having to miss games, including some of our top stars. However, the teams keep playing, calling up juniors and reserve players. The league and the clubs are working to a single aim and when everyone understands the task at hand and does everything asked of them, we can overcome our shared difficulties.

Right now, how many players have officially had a positive test for COVID-19?

As of Wednesday evening, we have confirmed positive tests for 87 people, 132 others have recovered.

Can you explain what is happening with Lokomotiv? Why did the team not forfeit the game in Sochi on Sep. 17 and the game was postponed, even though Lokomotiv arrived at the arena in Sochi? How did the club keep the league updated about this?

To start with, I’d like to remind everyone of the rules we follow when making our decisions in these situations and which every club knew about before the start of the season. We will only postpone games due to force majeure — when a club has no way of replacing missing players with members of the juniors or reserve team.

Before traveling to Sochi, Lokomotiv’s players took COVID tests and returned three positive results. Those players stayed home in isolation. The team went to Sochi and before the game the club alerted the league to the fact that most of the team fell within the contact group of the players under isolation. Many on the team were showing symptoms of coronavirus. Based on this information, we decided to postpone the game in Sochi and allow the club time for further tests and preparation for the following game. In addition, the KHL recognized that this situation arose immediately before the game in Sochi and Lokomotiv simply had no time to replace the unavailable players.

Following the same rules, we then decided to postpone Lokomotiv’s game at Dinamo Minsk, which was due to be played on Sep. 19, because there was no time to arrange the necessary paperwork for reserve team players to cross the border. The league reminded the club that it should raise a team for all subsequent games, calling up juniors and reserves as required.

Will Lokomotiv forfeit more games? The club’s statement said that it could not take part “in its upcoming games”.

I can say that Lokomotiv has been told that if it doesn’t attend its upcoming games, it will have to forfeit them. As far as we are aware, the club is doing everything it can to get a team together as soon as possible and resume its participation in the championship.

The KHL issued a statement about Lokomotiv forfeiting the game against Kunlun Red Star and mentioned discrepancies between tests carried out by the club and by the KHL. But surely all players are tested centrally by the league, as was announced at the start of the season?

The league has done a huge amount of work to develop a central testing system and appoint a partner to handle those tests. The KHL also covers the costs of this process. But the clubs are entirely free to carry out additional tests with the support of their own partners.

Lokomotiv has centralized testing at the lab provided by the league and also does tests through the labs at Russian Railways. If there are positive results, the health authorities in Yaroslavl carry out more tests. The tests from Russian Railways showed more infections, the league’s tests returned only one case. Following the club’s report, the health authorities in Yaroslavl carried out several extra tests, but the secondary tests gave negative results. The KHL is investigating how this situation arose and will do everything possible to prevent a repeat.

Why did Torpedo not forfeit its game against Dinamo Riga? The suggestion that there was no time to prepare documents for reserve players seems weak. Every club knew about this situation in advance and could submit the paperwork in good time. And Torpedo had already played several games with a weakened team.

This case is a bit different. Torpedo had to cross an international border to play the game. On the eve of the game against Dinamo there was a sharp increase in the number of players testing positive. In addition, this happened at the weekend and the club simply could not get the necessary documents for new players to travel to Latvia. That process takes 10 working days. The KHL always tries to help clubs and often manages to speed up this process, but we can’t do it overnight. Therefore, we felt this situation could be regarded as force majeure, there was nothing the club could do. That’s why we postponed the game. However, the team should play its upcoming games. If not, it will forfeit those games.

And what is happening with Dinamo Riga? The club’s management say they will ask the KHL to postpone games because the team is in quarantine until Oct. 5.

It’s the same situation as we see at all our other clubs. We understand all the difficulties that Riga faces, but we feel the team can field a team with its reserve players. If that doesn’t happen, the club will also forfeit any games that it doesn’t play. Riga has already informed the league that it won’t be able to travel to its game against Dynamo Moscow and will accept the league’s decision in accordance with the regulations.

Why were Jokerit and Barys allowed to postpone their games?

Jokerit doesn’t have a reserve team — that regulation only applies to Russian teams in the KHL — and as a result it doesn’t have extra players to bring into the team. Barys faced a particularly complicated situation where all the teams within the club were affected by illness, not just the first team.

At the same time, both clubs were warned that in future it will be difficult to find space in the schedule to rearrange games and they are expected to take part. If not, they will have to forfeit future games. There is no more space on the timetable to rearrange such a large number of games.

We already have new dates for two of the Barys games — they will play Dinamo Riga on Nov. 3 and Metallurg on Feb. 3. The first Barys game after quarantine is due to be on Oct. 4 against SKA. At present there is no reason to cancel or postpone that game.

Have other clubs asked to rearrange games? There are cases of infection at SKA and Salavat Yulaev.

We haven’t received any such requests. SKA played on Wednesday, as scheduled, against Sibir. We know that both SKA and Salavat Yulaev have players and coaches who are ill and, I repeat, we are very grateful to the clubs that are doing everything they can in this difficult situation and making sure that games go ahead.

Several dates have already been announced for rearranged games. Is there an understanding about the others?

We have an understanding. And as soon as a decision is confirmed, we will publish it on the official website. Finding new dates is not an easy process, we can’t simply move games overnight. There are all sorts of details to consider, starting with logistics and going all the way up to the availability of arenas. We can only set a new date after carefully reviewing all the options with the clubs.

When will you find out if you can reschedule games for the international breaks? Are you in contact with the Russian Hockey Federation (FHR)? Do we know the Federation’s position?

Yes, we are in constant communication with the FHR. The status of the Euro Hockey Tour games this year is currently under discussion and we are looking at both possibilities along with the management of the FHR. We do not yet know whether the IIHF will accept it, but of course we have these days in mind.

If you cannot reschedule games during the international break, how big a problem is that for the KHL? Do you have enough days to play all the games?

It won’t be too difficult, we will find a way. But of course, the international break would help us.

Could there be a situation where the championship has to be paused for some time? What would cause that to happen?

I answered this question a week ago. At present, we are not considering this as an option. Of course, the pandemic is a complicated situation, and nobody can predict how it might develop, but as of now there is no need to suspend the championship. And there is no need to get ahead of ourselves: we act according to the situation we face.

Might the KHL consider adjusting the current schedule if there are too many rearranged games?

When we drew up the schedule, we wanted to set up the best possible travel schedules for our teams. So it is not a good idea to start changing it during the season. That is why we are applying forfeits, or rescheduling games that are cancelled due to force majeure.

What will the KHL do at the end of the season, if there is no time to rearrange any more games?

Again, you’re getting ahead of yourself. Coronavirus is not a problem that only affects the KHL, it’s something that the whole world is trying to solve it. More and more players in the league are recovering and gaining immunity, the situation in the league is getting better.

Andy Potts Andy Potts
KHL press office KHL press office
exclusive for
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