Police investigate bribe allegation against national hockey team coach

Vladimír Růžička, photo: CTK

In a little over two weeks the national hockey team will begin its campaign to try and secure a medal at home at the Ice Hockey World Championships being hosted by Czech Republic. All eyes are on the national squad coach Vladimír Růžička but unfortunately nor only for positive reasons: he has come under scrutiny following an allegation he accepted a bribe while coaching domestic league club Slavia. Police are examining video released online to learn if a crime was committed.

Vladimír Růžička,  photo: CTK
Prague criminal police are looking at video footage which surfaced roughly a fortnight ahead of the Ice Hockey World Championships, casting something of a shadow over the national squad’s coach Vladimír Růžička. The former NHL player and gold medal winner from Nagano ’98, is suspected of having taken a bribe as the coach of Slavia, from the father of a former player who allegedly wanted to secure his son more ice time. Miroslav Palaščák secretly taped the meeting with Růžička sometime after he allegedly gave him two instalments of 250,000 crowns. At the time, Palaščák’s son David played in Slavia’s U-20 squad but was later loaned to lower-tier clubs, The Hockey News reported. According to the news site, he did not play for Slavia again.

Vladimír Růžička has categorically denied any wrongdoing, releasing a statement earlier this week in which he said he never accepted any financial sum in exchange for aiding a player. He admitted he took the money but told the media he had thought it was first a donation to the club programme, then, a loan, adding that the club management knew about the sums. But hockey club Slavia, has denied knowing about the money at all. Spokesman Jakub Mezlík:

“The management did not entrust Mr Růžicka… to meet with the person in question and no such funds were registered. Nor was the management informed about steps taken by the coach.”

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
The funds, 500,000 crowns in all, were returned to their owner last November. But the matter didn’t end there, as Mr Palaščák continued to make allegations behind-the-scenes. Jiří Jehlička, who runs an anti-corruption help line and website was the one who filed charges with the police: he told Czech Radio that he and colleagues had followed the scandal for some time, suggesting the step was needed to shed light on the matter, as neither Mr Růžička nor Miroslav Palaščák took the initiative to press charges – for bribe offering or taking.

Mr Jehlička suggests with the police involved underlying questions in the case might be properly answered. With the Worlds coming up fast, the coach – and for that matter the Czech Hockey Association – is not commenting the situation. Some former players approached by the press did, saying they were surprised by the allegation, with one saying it didn’t fit the man he knew. Almost all have taken a “wait and see” approach; it will be up to the police to try and learn more about what really took place.