Czech hockey players to unionize
Neumannová remains buried under debt from ski championships
Posted: September 30, 2009
Neumannová is haunted by 80 million Kč of World Ski Championships debt.
Extraliga hockey players and their agents are contemplating launching a new players' association - or union - that should boost their position at clubs. They say their current status often makes them virtual puppets in the hands of hockey club managers.
"Players here cannot rely on any legal protection," says agent Jaromír Henyš, who works with Czech players here and also in the NHL. "In America, the relationship between hockey organizations and players has been monitored by the Players' Association. ? Here, the clubs dictate the rules. They can manipulate players and their salaries as they wish. Such a practice can hardly be found anywhere in the world," Henyš said.
Controversy between HC Pardubice players and the organization's management in early September gave impetus to forming an independent players' association that would stand behind players. The Pardubice team stood up against the club's system of sanctioning players. According to the club's disciplinary code, players can be heavily fined even for minor fouls. For example, should the head coach find out that a player committed an unnecessary foul in a game that harmed the team, the club has a right to deduct up to 10 percent from the player's monthly salary. Other sanctions can be levied for showing up late to practice, undermining coaches' authority and other behavior.
Pardubice players raised their voice against this order after 19-year-old forward Robert Kousal reportedly received a fine worth 60 percent of his monthly salary in August for his alleged low effort on the ice. Star veteran goalie Dominik Hašek, who joined Pardubice this season, said the sanction was ridiculous.
"He is a young boy. He suffered from some pain and had to play while on medication ? and then he comes to pick up his money and sees that he was fined for low effort. This is perhaps against the principles of humanity," Hašek said. "We cannot close our eyes against this."
HC Pardubice General Manager Zbyněk Kusý said all sanctions were based on players' contracts. In contrast with some other countries, professional hockey contracts here do not guarantee a player full salary if he is transferred to the reserve team or suffers a long-term injury.
Hašek said some players presented their contracts to lawyers, and they found reason to question their legality.
"The contracts do not define particular grounds for fines. They cannot be based on subjective one-sided assessment made by clubs," said lawyer Josef Moravec. He added that players would most likely win possible legal disputes with clubs.
But Hašek admits that most players are not brave enough to legally challenge the clubs' ruling. "Some guys are rather afraid of courts. ? Moreover, we all want to focus on hockey," he said.
In order to increase pressure on the Extraliga clubs, players and their agents intend to launch an independent players' association next year. Apart from monitoring players' professional contracts, the association would also monitor players' insurance, pension schemes or changes of contracts. Rumors have Hašek as the possible head of the association.
"He is the only one who could accomplish such a task," says Plzeň forward Martin Straka, another NHL veteran playing in the Extraliga. "Players would certainly follow him."
Losing a prestigious race
Excessive debt from the World Ski Championships in Liberec in January and February is haunting the event's chief organizer, Kateřina Neumannová. The former Olympic champion said in mid-September that the debt was still more than 80 million Kč. This was despite the organizers receiving state subsidies worth more than 2 billion Kč. Some experts, including lawyer Ivan Brambaški, who acts as a forced administrator for the civic association that prepared the championship, said further subsidies from the government may be needed in order to clear the debt.
Meanwhile, the Czech Ski Association decided to take next season's prestigious cross-country race, the Prague Ski, away from marketing agency Kentaura. The agency has been run by Neumannová's partner, Josef Jindra. Czech Ski Association Vice President Petr Honzl said unclear accounting and outstanding debt after the championship were at the root of the decision.
"Everyone knows Kentaura participated in organizing the championship," Honzl said.
František Bouc can be reached at
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