By The Canadian Press
CALGARY — A New Year’s Eve disturbance on an Air Canada plane which some passengers have said was related to bad behaviour by Russia’s world junior hockey team does not appear to have resulted in any charges, but the International Ice Hockey Federation says it could still take action.
“The IIHF is gathering further information on this incident from the relevant authorities and will refer the incident to the IIHF Ethics Board to determine if the Russian National Team’s actions violated the IIHF Ethics Code,” the federation stated in an email.
“Upon the IIHF Ethics Board decision, the incident will be referred to the IIHF Disciplinary Board for sanctioning.”
Calgary police said in a news release over the weekend that officers responded to reports of a disturbance involving multiple passengers on an Air Canada aircraft at the city’s airport, and that officers helped airline staff “keep the peace” while the passengers were deplaned.
Several passengers reported that the Frankfurt-bound flight was delayed about three hours after Russian players and team officials refused to follow COVID-19 rules and wear their masks properly. Passengers also claimed some in the group smoked and wouldn’t listen to flight attendants.
A spokeswoman for the city’s police says there were no arrests or charges that she was aware of, and that officers only boarded the plane during the New Year’s Eve incident to ensure the safety of passengers as they were removed.
The police spokeswoman says the Canada Border Services Agency handles investigations into safety violations aboard planes, but the agency said in an email on Saturday that there was no ongoing investigation related to the matter.
The Russian team members were heading home from the IIHF world junior championships in Red Deer and Edmonton, which were cancelled last week due to COVID-19 outbreaks on several teams.
Media in Russia has quoted the team’s coach, Sergei Zubov, saying both the Czech Republic and Russian teams were removed from the flight for violating the mask regime.
Russian sports news outlet Match TV has quoted Zubov saying that after being removed from the aircraft, the Russian team was later allowed to board other planes to Montreal and Toronto, continuing on to Frankfurt and then home to Moscow.
Zubov told Match TV there was no cigarette smoke on board, noting he quit smoking three years ago. He said that Canadian enforcement of mask rules is strict, and suggested that some on his team weren’t wearing them properly could have been due to their joy of returning home.
Eoin Kenny, a passenger on the flight who was in business class, said one Russian official who was seated near him was vaping in the cabin and refused to put his mask up over his mouth and nose. The flight attendants tried over and over to get him to comply with the rules, Kenny said, but the man refused.
The man also blared Russian rock music on his phone and refused to turn it down when staff asked, Kenny added.
Zubov suggested to Match TV the story was being exaggerated, possibly because there is a shortage of hockey to report on.
Kenny said he didn’t believe the Russian players had been drinking, although they were loud in the departure lounge. He said he believed the Czechs, who were quiet in the lounge, may have been confused with the Russians since they were wearing similar grey sweatsuits.
It’s not the first time Russia’s junior team has had difficulty at an airport.
In 2011 when the team showed up for their flight home after their gold-medal win at the world junior hockey championships in Buffalo, N.Y. in 2011, Delta Air Lines asked them to leave for being unruly.
A bus driver who’d brought them to the airport told The Buffalo News at the time that some of the team where so drunk that they had to be carried onto the bus.
–By Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton