The KHL, a highly political hockey league, could not escape the consequences of the Russian military offensive in Ukraine. The Jokerit Helskinki club, which has participated in the KHL since 2014, decided on Friday to withdraw from the league play-offs which were to start on Tuesday. The Finns hosted Spartak Moscow.
This decision had been expected since the start of the military operation in Ukraine on Thursday morning. It was awarded by the president of the emblematic Finnish club, former player Jari Kurri.
The Jokerit Helsinki was the symbol of the internationalization of the KHL, which had been trying since its creation in 2008 to compete with the North American national league, the NHL. The club had become a real challenge for Russian sport.
Threat of withdrawal of sponsors
The Russian oligarch Gennady Timchenko, founder of the multinational specializing in oil Gunvor, had even taken shares in the club for a time when he already owned SKA Saint Petersburg before withdrawing from it. He remains the main owner of the Hartwall Arena, the 13,000-seat rink in Helsinki where Jokerit matches are played.
Thursday morning, Jari Kurri quickly found himself under pressure. One of Jokerit Helsinki’s sponsors, Barona (a service company), had announced that it was suspending its partnership with the Finnish club.
In addition, the Discovery Finland television channel, which has the TV rights to the KHL, has decided not to broadcast the Russian league play-offs. The players in the squad have been released from their contract.
Another KHL club, Dynamo Riga (Latvia), is considering withdrawing from the KHL.