National hockey team coach resigns in face of growing corruption scandal

Vladimír Růžička, photo: CTK

The embattled coach of the Czech national hockey Vladimír Růžička, under investigation for corruption, resigned on Tuesday. The move came hours after Czech Radio aired testimonies of two parents who said Růžička, as the former manager of the domestic hockey club Slavia, had asked for bribes.

Vladimír Růžička,  photo: CTK
A month ago, Vladimír Růžička helmed the Czech national squad at the Ice Hockey World Championships in the team’s quest for a medal on home ice. As of Tuesday, in the face of escalating corruption allegations, Mr Růžička will coach the national team no more. The embattled manager resigned, he said, to spare the Czech Hockey Association the embarrassment of what he called a “biased and determined campaign against his person”, making clear he would not rest until he had cleared his name. As of this week, three parents have come forward alleging Mr Růžička accepted or asked for payments in exchange for allowing their sons a shot on the team or to be loaned to different clubs. A first video, made public ahead of the Worlds, initially raised questions and led to a police investigation, still ongoing. Now, two more parents have come forward, telling Czech Radio’s flagship Radiožurnál this week they too were asked for large sums. One of the women explained:

“My son was offered a contract worth 5,000 crowns with the understanding that his place on the roster depended not only on his hockey skills but also on his ties to the club. In this case, a financial donation was to be given to Mr Růžička. Three hundred thousand crowns.”

The allegation echoes the earlier charge where the coach was paid – but then returned - 500,000. Coach Růžička maintains the sum – in two payments – were donations and that Slavia knew about them. The club, however, denied the claim, saying the management had been unaware of any arrangements.

Now attention is shifting more broadly on alleged corruption in Czech hockey: one source, a former player, told Czech TV he knew of a case where a coach allegedly received a better car as one player, whose father owned a second-hand dealership, progressed from the fourth to first line. The Czech Hockey Association, which is meeting on Wednesday to address the questions raised, said that financial donations had to be spelled out in black and white. Spokesman Zdeněk Zikmund:

Vladimír Růžička,  photo: CTK
“Any kind of donation has to be outlined in a written contract which stipulates that players will receive no special benefits in return.”

The head of the association, Martin Urban, meanwhile, declined to assess Mr Růžička’s case specifically, saying the body had no right to act as judge but that it was up to the authorities to determine if the law had been breached. The owner of the Chomutov Pirates, Jaroslav Veverka, with whom Růžička recently signed a 10-year-contract, meanwhile, is standing firmly behind its new coach. Mr Veverka told news website iDnes that the case “had nothing to do with corruption” and that many of those involved in hockey “knew it”. He suggested that the current system of financing (90 percent of which he said was up to clubs) had distorted conditions and that if Mr Růžička had any fault it was that he had actually tried to help parents who were unhappy with their sons’ lack of progress.