Friday, 15 September 2017

I Thought This Only Happened In Soccer

The uniforms, as seen to the left, are what Ukraine's national hockey teams wear. They actually look much better on the ice than they do in the graphic, but that's not why we're here today. The IIHF announced today that it has begun an investigation into two Ukraine players and has suspended them "from all ice hockey competitions or activities authorized and organized by the IIHF or any IIHF Member National Association as of 14 September 2017" as part of this investigation. If this seems like a heavy ruling while the investigation is on-going, the important thing to note is that this decision was made due to the two players' alleged match-fixing during the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group A game between Korea and Ukraine on April 28, 2017. That's a pretty serious allegation.

According to the IIHF, "[t]he players were allegedly involved in a match-fixing attempt in which Ukraine should have lost with a margin of at least two goals. However, the game ended with a 2-1 win for Korea in shootout." Clearly, Ukraine did not lose with a margin of at least two goals, so one has to question what prompted the IIHF to investigate. Again, according to the IIHF, "[a]fter reviewing all available evidence and reports, including evidence of increased betting on a loss of the Ukrainian team by two or more goals, the IIHF has decided to open an investigation".

Varyvoda is a defenceman who recorded one assist in the five IIHF D1 games at the World Championship. The 22 year-old hasn't really been an impact player for Ukraine at any of the international tournament games in which he's participated.

Zakharchenko is a goaltender whose 2.23 GAA and .943 save percentage show more than the single point that Ukraine earned at the IIHF tournament. The 22 year-old was set to join the EIHL's Nottingham Panthers this season until these allegations derailed his hockey dreams.

According to a report on a site called International Hockey Lineal Championship, Zakharchenko and Varyvoda "were paid a sum of roughly $30,000 US by an as-yet unnamed source to help Korea win by a two-goal margin in their final on April 28 in Kiev, ensuring that Korea would clinch silver in the tournament and advance to the Championship Division with a goal differential tiebreaker over Kazakhstan". That, friends, is highly illegal, and now we see why the IIHF is investigating.

How they were caught in the bribery scandal is a little bit more bizarre, and the outcome of other investigations could be devastating to these two young players.
The players, who were exposed when signed letters from the day after the game that they provided, promising to refund the money as they failed to meet the goal differential, were made public. The Ukranian Hockey Federation has undergone the process to discipline the players, and the IIHF has confirmed that they are starting a separate investigation. Additionally, Ukrainian anti-corruption laws could see fines and potential imprisonment in the future for both Zakharchenko and Varivoda if found guilty.
Ouch. Risking suspension is one thing, but risking imprisonment is an entire other problem about which these two probably never even thought. I have never heard of anyone at the IIHF level committing match-fixing before, but, if the allegations are true, this would mark a serious blow to the efforts of Russian sport in having them clean up their acts. Unconfirmed reports indicate that one of the organizers of the bribery scheme is the former HC Vityaz head coach Alexei Lazarenko. Let's call that a double-Russian-whammy.

The letters below were written by the players, with Zakharchenko's letter on the left and Varyvoda's on the right.
The translation of Zakharchenko's letter reads as follows: "I am Zakharchenko Eduard. I play for the national team of Ukraine. I promise to return money, 60 thousand dollars (30 thousand myself) because I have promised to screw up the game Ukraine-South Korea for money. Also I asked to stake my money for our loss to South Korea in two pucks and I haven't managed to do that."


If those smoking guns aren't enough to sink Zakharchenko and Varyvoda, I'm not sure what will. The only way I could see them getting out from this trouble is if they could produce evidence that shows they were coerced into taking the bribes. Clearly, they didn't follow through on what was asked of them in terms of fixing the score, so maybe there's some hope that they didn't accept the bribes on their own volition. Whatever the case may be, I'm guessing their next steps won't involve skates anytime soon.


Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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