Canada’s federal government recently told hockey teams traveling in Russia and Belarus to leave as soon as possible, they said toronto sun. Forty-eight Canadian ice hockey players are on the Continental Hockey League roster, and 44 of them play in Russia and Belarus (the other four in Kazakhstan).
Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, and Canada has been an early supporter of Ukraine since the war began. The Canadian government has provided US$626 million in military aid and US$320 in humanitarian aid. “Our government was very clear. Canadians should avoid all travel to Russia and Belarus,” Global Affairs Canada said in a statement The Canadian Press. “If you are in Russia or Belarus, you should leave now. Our ability to provide consular services could become extremely limited.”
There may be a possibility that a situation similar to the incarceration of US WNBA athlete Brittney Griner could arise due to the ongoing conflict. According to Maria Popova, associate professor of political science at McGill University in Quebec, there is a real threat to the players. “Anyone who is in Russia is always in danger of being tricked, imprisoned or used as a pawn, whatever the local government, central government and so on decides,” Popova said. “I think something like what happened to Brittney Griner is possible. The same playbook can safely be repeated in a case against a Canadian player.”
Griner was arrested in Russia on February 17, just before Russia invaded Ukraine. However, Popova added that while there is a risk for players playing abroad, she sees no clear reason why Russia would choose to arrest more athletes. “I don’t understand why Russia should try to use these people as a pawn because Canada is not Russia’s main problem in this war,” Popova said. “There’s not really any hope that Russia could change Canada’s policy in Ukraine. You know that Canada is firmly in NATO and unequivocally supports Ukraine.”
Adrien Blanchard, press secretary for Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly, told CBC.ca that players should explain why they are choosing to stay in Russia and Belarus. “President [Vladimir] Putin’s war in Ukraine is a war against freedom, against democracy and against the right of Ukrainians and all people to choose their own future,” Blanchard said. “Athletes who decide to play and ally with Russia and Belarus should explain their decisions to the public.”
Players Advisor Ritchie Winter of Alberta oversees three players currently involved in the Continental Hockey League. In his opinion, players have every right to continue earning a living.
“We live in a world where individuals are allowed to make these choices. It is just an individual decision related to an employment opportunity. Did every player who left push, pull, and pull, wrestling with the decision? Yes, absolutely,” Winter said. “At the end of the day, they are husbands and fathers who have responsibilities to their families. If you are a young family with limited resources because you mainly played in the minors, there is a desire to take care of your family. Sometimes that leads people to the oil fields in Kazakhstan and sometimes to the KHL.”
A March NBC News report said players often compete in Russia because they can potentially earn four or five times more than their US salaries. Citing Ketra Armstrong, Professor of Sport Management and Director of the Center for Race & Ethnicity in Sport at the University of Michigan. “It’s a sad situation in many ways, but it’s not entirely beyond understanding,” Armstrong said. “The amount of money that athletes can make in other parts of the world is incredible and almost a no-brainer depending on how good you are and how attractive you are in the market overall.”
The National Hockey League (NHL) conducts THC drug testing on players, but CBD is allowed. Instead of being penalized for cannabis use, the NHL refers players to a substance abuse and behavioral health program.