Jakub Koreis looked overseas as a hockey prospect and wore jerseys for Sparta, Pilsen and Kometa Brno in the National League. Today, he’s a successful entrepreneur, serves as a hockey commentator, and is the co-writer of the most-listened to hockey podcast Bombs to the Pole. He also does not leave the situation in Ukraine cold, he granted asylum to several war refugees and actively monitors the situation abroad, not only from the point of view of Czech players. How do they perceive the war, what are their possibilities and how will the whole situation affect the world of hockey? We also talked about it in an interview for Drbna.
Are you in contact with Czech players who are currently in Russia?
From the start of the invasion of Ukraine, I spoke to two players. They were completely done with that. They said they tried to be completely invisible and not pay attention to themselves. They are in a really difficult situation. First, they play for a fraction of the money they signed, as they pay them in rubles. So the fact that they stay is definitely not about the money. On the contrary, if they pack up and leave, they risk huge financial and other penalties.
“It’s one thing to be right, it’s another when someone knocks on your door.”
However, if they left, could they defend themselves?
Good. Let’s try to imagine it. The International Hockey Association decides in their favour. But the Russian hockey team will not accept it and will referee it. Let’s imagine again that even then they will prove the players right. But it’s still Russia, and the Czech Republic isn’t that far away. So it’s one thing to be right and it’s another when someone knocks on your door. I know that’s what our boys think. Another thing is if they could travel at all. I doubt they can just get to the airport and leave with no problem. They are in an unenviable situation. They want the season to end as soon as possible so they can leave without having to worry about anything. Which is still a matter of two months, if their team is successful.
How is the atmosphere in the cabin between the other teammates?
The foreign players who left had the authorization of their clubs. The guys I know haven’t had it. They say the team treats them well and they understand each other well. They talk about it with their teammates, some even had a family in kyiv. But then there’s the man who works as such an auxiliary force, and he watches the Russian state channel and says it’s all lies.
Great attention is also paid to Ovechkin. Do you observe his actions?
Yes. He still has a profile picture with Vladimir Putin on Instagram. In this case, the only thing that is reprehensible is that he supported him for a long time, even at a time when there was no war, but we all kind of knew what Putin was.
But how can he behave?
I think he’s got it all figured out now and he’s afraid to give the picture away because it would look like distrust of the president. The best Russian hockey player is certainly a very influential figure, but these really powerful people could quickly appease him. He has a family in Russia and can make his life uncomfortable on many levels. I believe he disagrees with the war and the current situation, but now it’s too late. He made a big mistake.
How does the club in which he plays react?
It behaves in a totally apolitical way. The players are there to play hockey and have nothing to do with the war and are not responsible for it. We also don’t want to throw all Russians in the same bag.
Nevertheless, the statements of the players themselves could be appropriate.
I heard that the Russian players had a discussion group where they decided to make a joint statement. However, they disagreed on this specific wording. So this is behind the scenes information and it’s hard to say if it’s true. In general, we do not hear many influential Russians in various fields say that they will speak directly against Putin. We cannot imagine what this life is like in Russia. Everyone is afraid to give their opinion. But we are easily told.
New York Rangers striker Panarin said in an interview with YouTube channel Vsem Golovin to President Putin: “The mistake is that our society considers him a superman. He is an ordinary person who must serve us.” Former coach Andrei Nazarov later accused him of assaulting the girl without proof. The false text was published in the Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya pravda. At that time, the club’s management also defended the players, claiming it was deliberate intimidation.
But there are some exceptions among athletes.
I wouldn’t focus so much on those we expect to oppose the war. I would rather appreciate those who have already done it. It is today an example of courage, heroism and character. A few years ago, Russian hockey player Artemiy Panarin, who plays in the NHL, spoke out against Putin. Immediately, Russian media told him that he was supposed to attack a young girl at a youth tournament ten years ago.
Hockey is a national sport for Russia and a great propaganda tool, do you see that too?
Absoutely. I remember when the KHL was played for two years by the Prague team. I don’t want to sound very cynical, but even then I heard that instead of Russian tanks we had the O2 Arena brand in Cyrillic. The KHL tried to recruit teams from all over Europe. From day one it was a propaganda tool, but until nothing happened, no one really solved it. Moreover, it was a league where players managed to earn a lot of money.
Let’s leave Russia now. What impact will all of this have on the world of hockey?
Nobody will go to Russia to play. I can’t imagine anyone going there. The question is what will happen to contracts that have already been signed. On the contrary, foreigners will leave and flock to Europe, which will only improve the quality of competitions. But their salaries will certainly go down and they will have to be modest.
And the Russians themselves?
The question is whether they will leave. Their income is already lower, but they will certainly solve it aside, I have no doubt. However, I can’t imagine that those hockey players who made a lot of money and went for Gucci tracksuits will suddenly live in Russia, where they won’t buy anything luxurious, and there will also be half-empty shelves in the grocery store. They may be forced to stay, hard to guess.