Tuesday, 25 July 2017

What A Dope!

In rather shocking and nearly unprecedented news today, the KHL announced a major suspension to one of its star players for failing a drug test last season. While there has always been suspicions of the Russians doping at major athletic events across the planet, this is the first significant suspension handed down by Russia's top league to a star player who has represented the country a number of times and has amassed a nice hardware collection from both international play and the KHL. As it stands now, Danis Zaripov will sit for two years as a result of the failed drug test, thereby making his newly-signed contract with Ak Bars Kazan virtually worthless.

I'll credit Russia for actually making an example out of a star athlete as they look to restore their crumbling reputation on the international sports stage. After Russia's track and field team was banned from the Rio Olympics and 119 Russian athletes in total were informed they weren't invited to Brazil due to widespread doping violations, the embarrassment felt within the Russian borders regarding their sporting heroes was never higher. According to Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber of Reuters, "The Russian government this month adopted a sweeping plan aimed at curbing doping, while President Vladimir Putin barred dopers and their coaches from receiving Kremlin grants." It sounds like this plan that led to this discovery in the KHL was not just going to be swept under the rug as Zaripov is the first major hockey star to be shown the door for a significant length of time.

As per the KHL, Zaripov's suspension will see him miss two years of action, and he is not eligible for reinstatement into the league until May 22, 2019 after one of his samples showed the use of "banned stimulants plus substances prohibited as diuretics and masking agents". This should also make Zaripov ineligible for international tournaments such as the IIHF World Championships and, most notably, the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea as the KHL together with the IIHF, the World Anti-Doping Agency, and SportAccord's Doping Free Sport Unit administered 377 drug tests in the KHL last season. Of those tests, three suspensions were officially handed down as both Medvescak Zagreb's Derek Smith and Admiral Vladivostok's Andrei Konev were also flagged for doping. Smith will sit until September 2, 2018 for using banned stimulants while Konev will watch games from afar until November 19, 2017 for the use of banned stimulants.

Zaripov is the big fish in this catch, though, as the 36 year-old may have seen his career ended by this announcement. Sitting for two years without playing professional hockey will undoubtedly have an effect on the veteran Russian player, and it may be difficult for Zaripov to simply jump back into the KHL in 2019-20. The four-time Gagarin Cup champion told Reuters he would appeal the suspension. "I'm shocked," Zaripov said. "There's nothing else to say."

As much as Zaripov was shocked, I think the same could be said for the hockey community in general. Zaripov is a three-time World Champion and last participated at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics for Russia, but there was hope that with many NHLers not attending the Games in South Korea that Zaripov's name would be called once more for his country. Instead, he'll be watching at home like you or I as he's no longer eligible to participate.

You have to wonder how many other Russians will be named before all is said and done.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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