Kovar: Players need more support from league bosses

Robin Kovar has called on ice hockey’s governing bodies in the UK to ensure players are properly looked after in the event of a club experiencing financial difficulties.

The Czech forward joined Manchester Phoenix in 2013, going on to score 125 goals with 183 assists in 199 games, but he was released along with the EPL club’s other imports earlier this month.

The 32-year-old has subsequently joined Swindon Wildcats, but he says the news his services were no longer required by Phoenix was a shock to him.

“We found out about the release from the Phoenix website – we’d been owed a few wages, but the owner (Neil Morris) said he would sort it out for us if we could be patient,” said Kovar.

“We knew there were some financial problems from before Christmas, but I guess he couldn’t find anyone who could put money into the club.

“It was a shock for me as I’d always stayed loyal to Phoenix – I stayed in Manchester because I wanted to live there.

“I rejected many good offers to move on and it’s a big disappointment to see things end up like this.

“My contract with the club ended around 16th January. At the moment, I’m owed three and a half weeks’ wages – I got this confirmed from the club.

“I think between myself and the other imports there’s around £4,000 to £5,000 still to be paid. In my case, Neil said I could still stay in his flat and use his car until he pays me what he owes.”

The EPL has endured a troubled time over the past few months, with Phoenix, Bracknell Bees and Telford Tigers all facing major financial headaches.

Kovar believes that the sport’s governing bodies should make significant alterations to the way the league is currently run.

“I know there’s been a similar situation in Telford earlier this season and I think it’s unacceptable that professional players can have owners put their company down and nobody does anything about it,” he added.

“There’s still some Telford guys owed money from what happened there and it’s looks like it’s happening again here.

“I really hope Phoenix pay what’s owed, but I hope league bosses clear the table after this season and make some changes.

“I’ve nothing against Telford or any other teams, but I don’t think that a team who owes players money through liquidating a company can just open a new one the next day and keep on going like nothing’s happened.

“The players have no-one they can talk to about it. Maybe the league should put some kind of guarantee in place – maybe £50K held by them to pay the players and staff.

“It’s happening way too many times and the league is getting a bad reputation.

“For imports it’s a really bad situation because a lot of them have their family with them and if teams decide not to pay you’re basically stuck – it cannot happen like this every season.”

In addition to the league’s numerous financial problems, Kovar said player safety was another major issue that needs addressing.

“I’ve played all over Europe and never had a situation like here where the doctor on the bench is not able to stitch you up or something like that,” said Kovar.

“Hockey’s a contact sport and if you get injured during a game there’s no ambulance around.

“For instance, last year Stan Gron broke his jaw and he ended up in emergency – it was twelve hours before he got any treatment.

“It’s a big problem for this league and something else it needs to look at.

“Without the players there is no league and they should be looking after us properly.”

Although receiving numerous offers to play elsewhere following his release, Kovar had hoped to resolve his situation with Phoenix before making a final decision.

However, with the transfer deadline on the horizon he has agreed a deal with the Wildcats as they target a run at the end-of-season play-offs.

“I’m really pleased to join Swindon – I’ve been in touch with Aaron Nell since last summer and when he offered me the chance to join their team I didn’t hesitate for too long.

“It was always fun to play against them as I think the team has the best offensive and skilled guys in the league and I’ll do my best to fit in well.

“Hopefully I can help the team cause some real damage in the play-offs.”

(Image permission: Tony Sargent)

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