A bribery scandal has struck the hockey world, with news coming from Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat that two Ukrainian players were caught accepting bribes to throw the 2017 World Championship Division IA, which clinched Korea their first promotion in history to the 2018 World Championships, putting the legitimacy of their win, along with Korea’s future, in potential doubt.
The news broke that goaltender Eduard Zakharchenko and defender Vladimir Varivoda (both pictured above) were paid a sum of roughly $30,000 US by an as-yet unnamed source to help Korea win by a two-goal margin in their final on 28 April in Kyiv, ensuring that Korea would clinch silver in the tournament and advance to the Championship Division with a goal differential tiebreaker over Kazakhstan. While Korea won the final 2-1, they still advanced by virtue of beating Kazakhstan in total goals for, 14 to 13. Ukraine, who finished last in the tournament with just a single point, was relegated to the Division IB tournament for 2018 in Kaunas, Lithuania.
The players, who were exposed when signed letters from the day after the game that they provided, promising to refund the money as they failed to meet the goal differential, were made public. The Ukrainian Hockey Federation has undergone the process to discipline the players, and the IIHF has confirmed that they are starting a separate investigation. Additionally, Ukrainian anti-corruption laws could see fines and potential imprisonment in the future for both Zakharchenko and Varivoda if found guilty.
Despite the outcome of the investigation, what comes into question now is Korea, and whether they will be allowed to proceed uninterrupted to the 2018 Worlds in Denmark, due to the potential of corruption and fraud in their advancement to the Championship. Whether any games will need to be replayed, or if the results can potentially be changed to advance Kazakhstan in their place, remains to be unseen, but it would certainly deal a huge blow to Korea, who not only clinched their first Championship promotion in history, but would be playing a mere three months after hosting the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, where they will then be making their Olympic debut.
We will follow this story closely for any new developments, but this is certainly a shocking, and disappointing, turn of events, both for a nation that has reached the pinnacle of international hockey for the first time, and for a sport that has largely managed to avoid the negative spotlight of match fixing that has plagued so many other sports throughout the world.