Russian hockey star Evgeny Kuznetsov has been suspended from international competition for four years after testing positive for cocaine use.
The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) announced the suspension on August 23, although it said the ban formally took effect on June 13.
It said a doping test on May 26 revealed Kuznetsov’s cocaine use following his participation as a member of Russia’s national team in the 2019 IIHF World Championships in Slovakia.
Kuznetsov scored two goals and made four assists in 10 games of the 2019 World Championships -- helping Russia to win the bronze medal.
The four-year suspension will block Kuznetsov from competing in the next three World Championships and the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
Kuznetsov said in a statement on August 23 that he had "made the decision to accept this penalty."
"Representing my country has always been so close to my heart and something I take so much pride in," Kuznetsov said. "Not being able to put that sweater on for four years is very hard to take."
"I have disappointed so many people that are important to me, including my family, teammates and friends," Kuznetsov said. "I feel absolutely terrible for letting you down. I realize that the only way I can win you back is to take ownership of my situation and my actions from this point forward."
Meanwhile, the Russian Ice Hockey Federation on August 23 issued a statement distancing itself from the 27-year-old Kuznetsov’s drug use.
“When joining the national team, athletes are constantly monitored by specialists, so the usage of banned substances when with the Russian national team is not possible,” the Russian federation said.
It was not immediately clear whether Kuznetsov would be allowed to continue playing for the Washington Capitals, the professional National Hockey League (NHL) team that signed Kuznetsov to a $62.4 million contract in 2017 to play through the 2024-2025 NHL season.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said on August 23 that the NHL had been "fully briefed" by the IIHF about Kuznetsov’s test result and the related international sanctions imposed against him.
"Unlike the IIHF, cocaine is not considered a performance enhancing drug" by the NHL and is, therefore, not prohibited under the NHL’s performance-enhancing drugs program, Daly said. "Instead, it is considered a drug of abuse that is tested for and for which intervention, evaluation, and mandatory treatment can occur in appropriate cases."
Daly said a decision about Kuznetsov’s eligibility to continue playing in the NHL would be made following an in-person meeting between Kuznetsov and NHL Commissioner Gary Beltman to discuss his situation before the start of the training camp for the 2019-2020 season.
"We intend to reserve further comment on any additional actions that may or may not be taken with respect to today’s announcement (disciplinary or otherwise) pending the completion of the Commissioner’s meeting with Mr. Kuznetsov," Daly said.
The Washington Capitals said it was "disappointed with this development" and takes "this occurrence seriously."
It said Kuznetsov had "voluntarily sought help" through an NHL education and counseling program and had agreed to "a regular testing protocol."
"We are committed to ensuring he has the necessary support required to work through this situation," the Capitals statement said.
On May 27, a day after the IIHF’s doping test revealed Kuznetsov’s cocaine use, a video surfaced online that appeared to show Kuznetsov in a hotel room with white powder and dollar bills on a table. Kuznetsov did not touch anything on the table in the 22-second clip.
A spokesman for the Washington confirmed in May that it was Kuznetsov in the video.
But Kuznetsov at that time denied he had ever taken any drugs.
Kuznetsov told Russian media that the video was from June 2018 in Las Vegas after the Capitals won the Stanley Cup and that he left the room after he saw the powder on the table.
“I never took drugs,” Kuznetsov told the Russian publication Sport Express in May. “Give me a drug test and I’ll pass it.”