Czech Foreign Ministry puts visas for Russian NHL athletes on ice

MFA denies visas to Russian NHL players scheduled to play in Prague, Russians fleeing mobilization. Staff ČTK

Written by StaffČTK Published on 23.09.2022 10:26:00 (updated on 23.09.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

Two American ice hockey teams from NHL scheduled to play in Prague were told to leave their Russian players behind. The Czech Foreign Ministry says they are not welcome due to the conflict in Ukraine.

The Foreign Ministry also announced that Russians who are fleeing their country to avoid mobilization do not fulfill the conditions to be granted humanitarian visas.

The Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks are scheduled to play games at O2 Arena in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. Each team has at least one Russian player.

"We can confirm that the Czech Foreign Ministry has sent a letter to the NHL to point out that, at this moment, the Czech Republic or any other state in the [visa free] Schengen zone should not issue visas to the Russian players to enter our territory," Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Smolek said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

The Foreign Ministry added that banning Russian athletes from entering the European Union to compete in events was in line with recommendation from EU sports ministers.

The announcement puts the games in doubt. Sharks general manager Mike Grier said that he is handling negotiations, and that is his view either the whole team will go to Prague or nobody will. Sharks captain Logan Couture also said that the entire team should go, according to the Associated Press.

The Czech Republic was the first EU country to stop issuing visas for Russians, on Feb. 25, a day after the invasion of Ukraine. There are exceptions to the ban, such as humanitarian cases and people who face persecution in Russia.

Czech hockey legend Dominik Hašek has been a vocal opponent of allowing the Russian players to come. He took his concerns to both the Foreign Ministry and the Czech Senate.

"We don't want any promotion of the Russian aggression here," Hašek said on Twitter. "We're guarding our lives and the lives of our allies in the first place."

In related news, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský told journalists humanitarian visas will not be granted to Russians who are fleeing their country to avoid mobilization.

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a partial mobilization of troops, saying in a speech on Russian television that this was in order to defend Russia against the West.

Putin said mobilization would mainly relate to Russian reservists with military experience and that it would start immediately. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the military would call up 300,000 reservists.

"I understand why Russians are fleeing Putin's increasingly desperate decisions. However, those escaping from the country because they do not want to fulfill the duty imposed on them by their own state do not fulfill the conditions to be granted humanitarian visas," Lipavský said.

On Wednesday, the Baltic countries announced that they would not provide Russians fleeing mobilization with shelter.

The European Commission said yesterday it was up to individual European Union states to decide whether or not to grant entry to those fleeing Russia. It added that EU countries should always guarantee entry to the people asking for asylum in the EU and review their requests individually.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala said the Czech Republic would approach the possible deserters as all applicants for asylum.

"If someone comes, the application will be judged within the routine asylum proceedings," Fiala said, adding that the government had no signals about any massive arrival of Russians who want to avoid mobilization.

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