News 10 June 2015

Czech Republic’s ice hockey coach resigns amid corruption allegations

Vladimir Ruzicka has reportedly resigned from his role as coach of the Czech Republic’s national team following allegations by parents of players of top tier side Slavia Prague that he demanded money in exchange for their sons’ place in the team while coach there. The allegations surround Ruzicka’s tenure as coach of the Czech Extraliga (ELH) side Slavia Prague during the 2012/13 season.

According to the Associated Press, Ruzicka announced his resignation after public radio broadcast the interviews with the parents alleging bribery on Tuesday. Ruzicka reportedly continues to deny any wrongdoing, dismissing all charges and stating that he had done nothing illegal nor criminal. He ‘refuted any allegations against him’ and said that he would ‘continue to fight them in order to completely clear his name’. According to sources Ruzicka announced through a statement by his lawyer that had decided to stand down following a ‘concerted media campaign’ directed against him since April.

Czech Radio, the public radio broadcaster of the Czech Republic, published transcripts of the interviews with the parents of the Slavia Prague players on its website. The radio broadcaster claims that its reporters had been working on the case for over two months and had talked to ‘dozens of people from the hockey community, not only parents, but also players, coaches and hockey executives’.

According to one parent interviewed by Czech Radio, her son was offered a contract at Slavia Prague on the premise that participation in the men’s team was not conditional on hockey skills alone, but would also be reflected through any monetary gift given to Ruzicka. Another rparent reportedly claimed that when he refused to pay off Ruzicka, he was told that if he went to another Czech club he would have to pay them off too, and as a result sent his son abroad to play in university leagues. The radio also claimed that one parent was told that if she wanted her son to transfer to a different club, then Ruzicka would act as agent in return for a fee of 100,000. Czech Radio also names ‘George’, reportedly a friend of Ruzicka, as an intermediary in the various reported transactions.

The allegations first came to light in April this year when one parent, Miroslav Palascak, released a recording of a conversation with Ruzicka while Palaščák was wearing a hidden camera. Local media reported that Palascak had said that he had given Ruzicka a bribe worth 500,000 Czech koruna (€18,000) in cash in two instalments in exchange for a promise his son would stay on the team.

In April when the video was released, Czech Radio interviewed Miroslav Přerost, head coach of the Czech Republic men’s national junior ice hockey team, who told the radio that the topic had been ‘overblown’. He reportedly said that ‘everyone who thinks that their child is better than the other, and when the latter is preferred, they feel that it is because they had paid for it’. Přerost at the time said that he couldn’t account for any individual’s actions, but claimed that he never saw any bribery, arguing that there was far more pressure coming from the parents acting as agents.

ESPN reported that Tomas Kral, president of the Czech ice hockey federation (ČSLH), told state television that Ruzicka’s resignation was ‘the only possible solution’. These comments show a change in stance from Kral, who in April is reported to have said that Czech hockey was built on marketing money, and that among those who gave money to the sport were parents, and that this case was nothing special. He reportedly suggested that the only time a problem would arise would be if hockey became a marketing partner of the parent in order to let their son play, which he emphasised was not the case in April.

According to the AFP, police are investigating the allegations against Ruzicka. ČSLH have been contacted by the SII for comment, but have not yet responded.

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