Ukrainian hockey authorities have been widely criticized for the lenient punishment it handed out to one of the league’s players for performing a racist gesture.
The incident occurred on September 26 during a match between HC Kremenchuk and HC Donbass, when Kremenchuk player Andriy Deniskin mimed peeling and eating a banana in the direction of black Donbass player Jalen Smereck.
In cooperation with the Ukrainian Hockey League (UHL), the Disciplinary Committee of the Ukrainian Ice Hockey Federation handed Deniskin a 13-game suspension, but under UHL rules the player or his club is able to buy out 10 games of the ban for $187.80 each game.
Nazem Kadri, a player for the National Hockey League’s Colorado Avalanche, labeled the punishment and the handling of the incident as “pathetic.”
“What a fumble by the Ukrainian league to allow a player to buy his games back after a vulgar and unacceptable action,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Pathetic mishandle by who ever is in charge. Obviously they tolerate this kind of behaviour, it’s a shame.”
The UHL did not respond to CNN’s request for comment, but in a statement at the time of the incident said that “such behavior of hockey players on the site is unacceptable within a civilized society.”
After the match, Deniskin apologized to Smereck in an Instagram post.
“I want to publicly apologize to the player of the hockey club Donbass Jalen Smereck,” he wrote. “During the match Kremenchuk – Donbass, I, being in negative emotions, showed a gesture that someone may consider as an insult in race.
“I respect all people regardless of their race or nationality. Emotions in hockey, unfortunately, can be different.”
Speaking to the press after the incident, Deniskin said he regrets the incident “because I am not a racist.”
“I made this negative gesture on emotion after the fight, but at that moment I did not have any racist intentions,” he added.
“Only afterwards I realized that I could have made Jalen look bad with my ill-considered action. So, once again, I want to express my apologies to him. I respect all people regardless of their racial or national origin.
“I am very sorry to what has happened because I treat all people equally.”
CNN reached out to Deniskin through Kremenchuk, but is yet to hear back.
After the match, Donbass said in a statement it was “outraged by the behavior” of Deniskin.
“[The] Donetsk club rejects any racist manifestations — racism has no place neither on the sports fields, nor outside them,” it wrote.
“We will do everything possible to support our hockey player, while at the same time we call the Disciplinary Committee for the strictest possible punishment for the Kremenchuk player.”
Donbass head coach Pavel Mikulchik said Smereck was “in a depressed state” following the incident.
“You should see in what condition he came today,” he told the Donbass website. “He could not start the training process. I think he received thousands of calls and texts of support. He’s in a depressed state.
“We believe that racism has no place anywhere.”
CNN reached out to Smereck through HC Donbass, but is yet to hear back.
In an interview with WXYZ Detroit, Smereck said: “Once I seen the video, I was like wow he really went for a full on act. That’s the farthest I’ve ever seen it go.”
In an Instagram post, Smereck wrote “these situations are very tough and I’m a big believer in standing up for what is right. Therefore, I have been putting a lot of thought into what comes next for me in my career.”
“As of right now, I have decided that I will be taking a personal leave of absence from HC Donbass and I will not play another game in the UHL until Andrei Deniskin is suspended and removed from the league.”
CNN asked Kremenchuk for comment on Smereck’s decision not to play again until Deniskin is removed from the league, but has yet to receive a response.
Akim Aliu, a Nigerian born Canadian-Ukrainian hockey player and chair of the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA), also criticized the UHL’s punishment.
“This is a complete embarrassment,” he wrote on Twitter. “How are we as POC ever supposed to trust the system when at every turn it fails to protect us. On and OFF the ice.”
The HDA is an organization comprised of current and former NHL players that aims to eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey. It said it “stands with Jalen” and has been in contact with him.
“The hockey community rallies around him and this is just another example showcasing how hockey is NOT for everyone,” it wrote on Twitter. “The higher-ups must stand up and make the right decision. They set an example for everyone.”
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