Sochi 2014: You Can Play...or can you?

Martin Rose

Sochi, we have a problem.

Just six months before Russia hosts the 2014 Winter Games, Mr. Putin signed a law allowing police officers to arrest tourists and foreign nationals they suspect of being homosexual, lesbian or "pro-gay" and detain them for up to 14 days. Contrary to what the International Olympic Committee says, the law could mean that any Olympic athlete, trainer, reporter, family member or fan who is gay — or suspected of being gay, or just accused of being gay — can go to jail.

-- from "Russia's Anti-Gay Crackdown," New York TImes, 7/21/2013

The 2014 Sochi Olympics are shaping up to be a truly clownshoes affair. First, over $30 billion was embezzled - making this Olympics the most expensive in history. Seriously, google "Sochi 2014 corruption" and a huge number of articles accusing Putin and friends of corruption and theft will surface. If that wasn't bad enough, now this new law comes to light.

As putrid and horrible as the law and those associated with it are on their own, they present a unique set of problems when associated with the Sochi Olympics, and directly in our interests, the NHL players who will be trekking halfway across the world to play in games that, at least for those players on teams that are playoff contenders, might be detrimental in the first place. (I mean, honestly -- would you rather have Patrice Bergeron get two weeks off mid-season to rest and recuperate, or play in a bunch of games where he'll just get worn down before the playoffs?)

Specifically: The NHL athletes who have participated in programs like You Can Play. Those athletes are as "pro-gay", or rather, as pro-equality as it gets. Those PSAs have been seen all over the world.

WIll they have to worry about a potential criminal charge once they arrive in Russia?

The list of athletes that've appeared in these PSAs include players from the USA, Canada, Sweden, and Slovakia - and hey, that's convenient for Russia, the guys from Sweden and Slovakia are, barring injury, locks to make their Olympic teams. (Zdeno Chara, Henrik Lundqvist). A good chunk of the Canadian and USA rosters are in danger, too - Dustin Brown, Ryan Kesler, Brooks Orpik, Corey Perry, Steven Stamkos, Duncan Keith, Carey Price, Jordan Eberle and Shea Weber are just a few names from the You Can Play list that might see Olympic action this February. Can you imagine if the 2010 USA team and staff went to Sochi this year, with Brian Burke on board? As an outspoken supporter of gay rights who's marched in Toronto Pride, Burke would be practically enemy #1.

Although the International Olympic Committee has released a statement addressing this issue, stating that it will make sure "the Games can take place without discrimination against athletes, officials, spectators and the media," if there's this blanket law regarding tourists, how will Russian police determine who's a "specatator" and who's just an arrestable tourist acting "too gay" for Mother Russia? It's archaic, terrifying, and ridiculous that this even needs to be taken into consideration.

Will we see a repeat of 1936, in which the Olympics in Germany ignored the huge issue occurring right under their noses, or will we actually see some sort of heinously unjustifiable action taken against Olympians and their supporters? Either way, it's disgusting and in direct violation of the Olympics' mission statement, and it's a shame that it has to be a focal point of worry for certain athletes rather than what they SHOULD be focusing on -- representing their country to the best of their ability.

There's no NHL boycott, but maybe there should be.

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