Russian NHL players from the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators will be permitted to play games in Prague, despite the Czech government having previously said they weren’t welcome there due to the war in Ukraine.
Nashville and San Jose are set to play regular-season games Oct. 7 and 8 at Prague’s O2 Arena as part of the 2022 NHL Global Series in Europe. The Sharks’ Alexander Barabanov and Evgeny Svechnikov, as well as Nashville’s Yakov Trenin, are Russian-born players.
The Czech Foreign Ministry had sent a letter to the NHL that stated, “the Czech Republic or any other state in the [visa free] Schengen zone should not issue visas to the Russian players to enter our territory.”
The Czech Republic was one of the first EU countries to stop issuing visas to Russian nationals following the February invasion of Ukraine. Exceptions include humanitarian cases.
At the time, the NHL told ESPN it had no concerns about the teams’ Russian players being permitted to play in Prague. San Jose general manager Mike Grier wouldn’t entertain the idea of leaving his Russian players back home, telling reporters “either we all go, or no one goes.”
Talks between the Czech government and the NHL continued earlier this week. Tomáš Pojar, adviser to the prime minister for security and deputy minister for European affairs, told the Czech news outlet Seznam Zprávám that they didn’t see the players’ presence as a threat to national security.
“This is a private event, they have visas, so from the state’s point of view there is no reason not to let them in,” Pojar said.
The shift in policy was confirmed by the Predators.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.