MOSCOW, August 27. /TASS/. The Russian Sports Ministry issued on Thursday an official decree regulating the number of foreign players allowed to play in the country’s ice hockey clubs, and the document comes in force starting on Friday, August 28.
"The Russian Ministry of Sports jointly with the Russian Hockey Federation [FHR] issued a decree ‘On the restricted participation of athletes, ineligible of competing for the Russian national teams, in the all-Russian tournaments of the sport of ice hockey," the ministry said in a statement posted on its website on Thursday.
The Russian Sports Ministry decreed that the number of players, who are ineligible performing for the national team, must not exceed five per club in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). The ministry’s decree also stipulates that each club should have not more than one foreign goaltender.
However, it is still not clear whether players from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan would be qualified in KHL as foreign players, referred to in Russian sports as legionnaires.
Last season they were not considered as legionnaires in the KHL and the new decree passed by the Sports Ministry on Thursday has no provisions concerning the status of players from the countries at the issue.
Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan along with Russia are members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which is a new integration association guaranteeing a number of economic privileges for its member states, including the free movement of workforce.
KHL players from the member states of the EAEU were not considered as foreigners during the league’s previous season, but confusion emerged just day before the new playing season, which kicked off on August 24.
The Kontinental Hockey League is an international league set up to promote ice hockey in Russia and other European and Asian states. KHL organizes matches of Russian ice hockey championship.
In an interview with TASS shourtly before the decree was published on Thursday, Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said he was surprised with the league’s confusion over the issue of the foreign players’ quota.
"I am surprised with the fact, that the decree had been long ago drafted and approved, but only days before the championship’s start all different sorts of statements emerged," Mutjo told TASS on Thursday morning. "KHL has confused its clubs. We have the government’s stance, which states that we must do everything possible to give priority to our [Russian] players in each national championship."
Last Friday, KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko said Ice hockey players from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan would not be considered as "legionnaires" in Russia-led KHL during the 2015-2016 season, if they had signed contracts with clubs before the introduction of the quota on foreign players.
"A total of 19 Belarusian ice hockey players are listed in eight different clubs and the overall sum of their contracts equals some 800 million rubles [$11.7 million]," Chernyshenko said. "All contracts have been signed before the [Sports Ministry’s] decree. The law has no retroactive force and nobody wants to get engaged in lawsuits."
A total of three KHL clubs, namely Spartak, Neftekhimik and Severstal, have already engaged the number of Belarusian players above the permitted quota in the first matches of this season, which boosted off four days ago.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law on July 1 a bill regulating a number of foreign athletes allowed to participate in sports competitions in Russia.
The law envisages granting the Russian Sports Ministry the right of establishing and coordinating the limit of foreign athletes allowed to compete in Russia, who are also referred to as ‘legionnaires.’ Each sport would have its own limit for attracting legionnaires, according to the bill.
The new law also stipulates obligatory criteria for foreign players, including their athletic qualification, age, period of permanent stay in Russia as well as athlete’s period of training in Russia and results achieved while competing for Russian sports clubs.