Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Federal government warns to release Canadian hockey players in Russia, Belarus CBC Sports

Canadians continue to play hockey for the Continental Hockey League teams in Russia and Belarus, despite warnings from the Canadian government to pull out of those countries.

There are currently 48 Canadian players on the KHL club roster this season, the most of any country outside Russia.

Forty-four are playing for clubs within the Russian and Belarusian borders, the other four are in Kazakhstan.

Russia, along with a supporter of Belarus, invaded Ukraine on 24 February.

Canada has been on Ukraine’s side in the conflict since February, with $626 million in military aid and more than $320 million in humanitarian aid, as well as imposing financial sanctions on Russia and Belarus.

“President [Vladimir] Putin’s war in Ukraine is a war on freedom, on democracy and on the rights of Ukrainians and all peoples, to determine their own future,” Adrian Blanchard, press secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Jolie, said in an email to Canadians. The statement reads. Press.

“As Canadians, these are values ​​we hold dear. Athletes who decide to play and be affiliated with Russia and Belarus must explain their decisions to the public.”

Alberta-based player agent Richie Winters, who has three clients in the KHL, says players have the right to make a living in their profession as other Canadians work overseas.

“We live in a world where individuals are allowed to make the decisions they make. It’s a personal decision related to employment opportunity,” Winter said. “Is every player who’s gone, pushing, pulling and wrestling with judgment? Yes, absolutely.

“At the end of the day, they are husbands and fathers who have responsibilities for their families. If you are a young family with limited resources because you played mostly in the minors, there is a desire to take care of your family.

“Sometimes it drives people to the oil fields in Kazakhstan and sometimes it drives them to the KHL.”

‘Avoid traveling to Russia and Belarus’

Global Affairs Canada told The Canadian Press in a statement that the advisory to avoid travel to Russia and Belarus was issued on March 5 and February 24, respectively.

“Our government is very clear. Canadians should avoid all travel to Russia and Belarus,” Blanchard said. “If they are in Russia or Belarus, they should go now. Our ability to provide consular services may be extremely limited.”

Dozens of Canadians play in men’s pro leagues across Europe each year. A top KHL player can earn over US$1 million in salary annually.

The Canadian Press sent messages to nine Canadian players in the KHL asking what assurances they have received from that league and their teams regarding their personal safety. Nobody answered.

“Last year when all this happened, many players were stuck in the crosshairs. They stayed and didn’t see any risk,” Winter said.

“The atmosphere hasn’t changed from what the players tell me, which he has [been] Earlier Many of them have balanced that risk and determined that they will play there.”

Some players turned down the offer

He also knows of players who turned down opportunities to play in the KHL this season.

“Everyone has a different risk profile,” he said. “I’ve turned down huge amounts of money to Canadian and American clients compared to the amount I make here.”

Last season in the KHL there were 53 Canadians. Seven played for Latvia’s Riga Dynamo, who withdrew from the league along with Finland’s Helsinki Jokerit.

“Something I clearly don’t support is the war that is going on,” said forward Jake Vertenen, who is on a tryout contract with the Oilers after playing 36 games for Spartak Moscow last season.

“It was one of the main reasons I left. It’s a difficult situation. I, personally, I wouldn’t go back because of it.”

Jake Vertenen, seen above with the Vancouver Canucks in January 2021, said he turned down an offer to play in Russia. (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

The pro-Ukraine United States is embroiled in a diplomatic dispute with Russia over a pro athlete.

WNBA All-Star Brittany Griner, who plays pro basketball for Ekaterinburg in the off-season, was sentenced August 4 to nine years in prison for drug possession.

When she arrived in Moscow on February 17, police said they found wipe cartridges filled with cannabis oil in her luggage.

Winter says Russians playing in the NHL preclude a possible retaliation from a Canadian player over Ukraine’s support of Canada, but McGill’s associate professor of political science says the risk exists.

Maria Popova said, “There is no rule of law in Russia, so whoever is in Russia is always going to be imprisoned, imprisoned, the local government, the central government, etc., whatever it decides to do as a pawn. There is a danger of being used as such.”

medium risk of detention

The risk of a Canadian hockey player being detained by local, state or central governments is low to moderate, “but there is a risk,” she said. “I think what happened with Brittany Griner is possible. The same playbook can certainly be repeated in a case against a Canadian player.”

Popova continued, “I don’t know why Russia would try to use these people as pawns because Canada is not Russia’s main problem in this war.”

“There’s really no hope that Russia can change Canada’s policy in Ukraine. They know Canada is firmly in NATO, clearly supporting Ukraine.”

Goaltender Andrew Hammond was the most recent Canadian to sign with the KHL club. He joined the Chelyabinsk tractor on September 16.

Craig Woodcroft, brother of Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft, coaches the KHL team from Minsk in Belarus.

“Obviously we’re definitely paying attention to what’s happening in the world,” Jay Woodcroft said.

“My brother is in Belarus, so it’s not the big Russian mainland, but they play in that league. He’s made a good career for himself at a high level in the KHL.”

Seven Canadians in the KHL wore Maple Leafs to the Olympic Games in Beijing in February before Russia invaded Ukraine, including goaltender Ed Pascal (Metallurg Magnitogorsk) and forwards Corban Knight (Avangard Omsk) and Josh Ho-Sang ( Salavat Yulaev).

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