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Ice hockey-Hockey world condemns racist taunt in Ukrainian league

:Calls for a stiffer punishment for the player who directed a racist gesture toward a Black defenseman during a Ukrainian Hockey League (UHL) game have reverberated around the sport, with some calling the sanction an embarrassment.

HC Kremenchuk forward Andriy Deniskin was suspended for 13 games by the UHL after he taunted HC Donbass defenseman Jalen Smereck, the only American player in the eight-team league, during a match when he mimed peeling and eating a banana.

The Hockey Diversity Alliance, formed in 2020 by nine current and former National Hockey League (NHL) players with a mission to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey, said they have been in touch with Smereck.

"The hockey community rallies around him and this is just another example showcasing how hockey is NOT for everyone." the organisation wrote on Twitter. "The higher-ups must stand up and make the right decision. They set an example for everyone."

Smereck did not immediately reply to a request from Reuters for an interview but said on Instagram he will not play another game in the UHL unless Deniskin is removed from the league, which is made up mostly of Ukrainian and Russian players.

Deniskin apologised on Instagram, saying he acted in the heat of the moment and that he respects all people regardless of race or nationality. He later deleted the post after coming under fire for being insincere.

Hockey Diversity Alliance Chair Akim Aliu, who is of Nigerian and Ukrainian descent, said the punishment handed down to Deniskin was far too lenient.

"This is a complete embarrassment. How are we as POC (people of colour) ever supposed to trust the system when at every turn it fails to protect us. On and OFF the ice," Aliu wrote on Twitter.

Under the UHL's rules, only three games of Deniskin's 13-game ban are mandatory, and the player can avoid serving the remaining 10 games if the club pays a 50,000 hryvnia (US$1,900) fine, or 5,000 hryvnia per game.


A UHL spokeswoman said the punishment corresponded to the league's regulations.

"For every violation there is a different cost," she said. "We haven't had a single racism case to punish. This is the first such incident."

Eugene Kolychev said he was fired as general manager of the UHL by the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine for speaking out about racism. The league confirmed Kolychev was fired but declined further comment.

Both the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and NHL Players' Association (NHLPA) were among other organisations to speak out on the incident.

The NHLPA called Deniskin's actions a "deplorable act" while IIHF President Luc Tardif said there was no place in sport and society for "such a blatantly racist" gesture.

"This a direct assault on the ideals and values of our game, and we will ensure that all necessary ethics violation investigations occur to ensure that this behaviour is sanctioned appropriately," said Tardif.

A number of NHL players preparing for the 2021-22 season condemned Deniskin's behaviour.

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Wayne Simmonds, who is one of the most prominent Black players in the NHL, said the punishment given to Deniskin does not fit the crime.

"It's come to the point to where this is sickening, it's disgusting," Simmonds told reporters. "The way that guy did what he did without any hesitancy makes me sick to my stomach.

"To know that I got to play hockey and potentially have my children play hockey to face these types of incidents I can see why people probably don't want to play hockey."

(US$1 = 26.5741 hryvnias)

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Source: Reuters


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