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HC Vsetín's future in arbitration panel's hands

Club is first in Extraliga to be disqualified for its financial woes

By František Bouc
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
July 4th, 2007 issue

There’s a quiet storm brewing in the national hockey community.
In the first week of July, the Czech Ice Hockey Association’s arbitration panel will decide the future of the former hockey dynasty HC Vsetín.
Vsetín became the first club to be disqualified from the top-flight Extraliga because of financial woes. The Association of Professional Clubs (APK) ruled June 6 to drop Vsetín from the Extraliga. The club’s ongoing debts and failure to pay bank guarantees were at the root of the unprecedented decision, the APK said.
“Vsetín has struggled with its finances for some time and repeatedly violated the Extraliga licensing rules,” said APK President Ctibor Jech.
According to the licensing rules introduced in April 2006, all Extraliga clubs must submit 7 million Kč ($328,083) in bank guarantees for players’ wages ahead of each season. The ruling was initiated by Vsetín’s ongoing debts with its own players.
Vsetín’s CEO, Ondřej Štefl, insisted the organization had settled all of its debts and guarantees. He filed an appeal June 15 with the arbitration panel.
“We’ve fulfilled all our commitments and the club no longer has any debts to players,” Štefl said.
The arbitration panel had 21 days to either confirm or reject the ruling. As a result, a three-member panel of arbiters will have to issue their final verdict by July 6. Should the verdict confirm the APK’s previous ruling, Štefl said he is ready to take the case in front of a civil court.
“We’ll be fighting hard to keep the Extraliga in Vsetín,” he said.
Death threat
Vsetín’s disqualification raises turmoil in the hockey community.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Vsetín used to dominate the top-flight league, winning six titles at the national hockey championships. Although the team has deteriorated since then and finished last in the league this season, the organization still has a large base of supporters.
In mid-May, more than 1,000 fans gathered in a street rally in Vsetín, east Moravia, to express their support and also to protest the club’s disqualification from Extraliga. An online petition supporting the team has also been launched.
“It shows we can still rely on our fans, and it also boosts our position in our dispute with the APK,” Štefl said.
Štefl also speculated that one factor behind the club’s disqualification could have been the APK’s effort to reduce the number of Extraliga clubs to 14. After the Ústí nad Labem team advanced to the Extraliga from the second division this spring, the APK had to figure out how to handle 15 teams in the competition.
“They just wanted to trim the number of participants, so they only used our past debt as an excuse,” Štefl said.
APK President Jech argued the reason for Vsetín’s disqualification was purely financial.
“There’s no doubt that Vsetín repeatedly violated Extraliga rules. They owed money to players and did not pay their debts in time,” Jech said. “We did not disqualify them earlier simply because we didn’t want to harm the Extraliga competition.”
Should the arbitration panel confirm the APK’s verdict, Vsetín would most likely drop its senior team and the once champion club would run only junior teams.

František Bouc can be reached at

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