East Ukraine ice hockey team to skip season over unrest

Moscow (AFP) - East Ukraine's premier ice hockey team will skip next season due to fighting raging in the region between government troops and pro-Russian rebels, the Continental Hockey League (KHL) said Wednesday.

Hockey Club Donbass, based in the separatist-held city of Donetsk, will drop out for a year from the high-profile league as the situation in the region "remains serious and far from stable," the league said in a statement.

"Team Donbass will take a necessary one-year 'sabbatical break' for the 2014/15 season," the league announced following a meeting with club officials.

Donbass has found itself on the front line of the unrest rocking east Ukraine and anti-government rebels burned down its stadium last month.

Owned by business tycoon and politician Boris Kolesnikov, Donbass is considered Ukraine's leading team and is the country's only representative in the KHL.

The club will buy a stake in the league in order to secure its place when it returns from the break and its players will be allowed to sign for other clubs during the year off.

The Russian-based KHL brings together hockey teams from some nine countries and is considered one of the world's leading hockey competitions.