- The National Hockey League (NHL) has condemned Russia’s unprovoked invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
- Additionally, the league has suspended business relationships with its Russian based partners.
- The NHL’s actions are the latest of many throughout the hockey world in response to the Ukraine invasion.
The hockey world reacted quickly to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and now the top league in the sport has followed suit. Earlier today, the National Hockey League (NHL) issued a statement condemning the invasion:
The National Hockey League condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and urges a peaceful resolution as quickly as possible. Effective immediately, we are suspending our relationships with our business partners in Russia and we are pausing our Russian language social and digital media sites. In addition, we are discontinuing any consideration of Russia as a location for any future competitions involving the NHL.
We also remain concerned about the well-being of the players from Russia, who play in the NHL on behalf of their NHL Clubs, and not on behalf of Russia. We understand they and their families are being placed in an extremely difficult position.
Not a lot of equivocation there….the second paragraph is likely in response to some fans who have suggested that the NHL send their Russian players home until further notice. Obviously, the NHL would like to avoid this for a number of reasons–not the least of which being the many first rate Russian players in the league. This season, 60 Russians have played in the NHL, including leading Vezina Trophy favorite Igor Shesterkin and future Hall of Famer Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin and Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov are both in the top 10 in scoring with 63 points each.
The notion that Russian players should be excluded from the NHL isn’t an outlier. The International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board released a statement today urging sports organizations worldwide to ban Russian players and teams from competing due to their country’s unlawful invasion of a sovereign neighbor. Their point was not only the immorality of the invasion but the need for ‘equivalence’ for Ukrainian athletes that are not able to compete:
“While athletes from Russia and Belarus would be able to continue to participate in sports events, many athletes from Ukraine are prevented from doing so because of the attack on their country.”
“In order to protect the integrity of global sports competitions and for the safety of all the participants, the IOC EB recommends that International Sports Federations and sports event organizers not invite or allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials in international competitions.”
Also calling for the exclusion of Russian players from the NHL is legendary Czech born goaltender Dominik Hasek who also had very strong words for the league’s most visible Russian player, Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin has tried to take an anti-war tone despite his past support for Vladimir Putin and ‘the Dominator’ isn’t buying it:
“What!? Not only an alibist, a chicken s—, but also a liar! Every adult in Europe knows well, that Putin is a mad killer and that Russia is waging an offensive war against the free country and its people. The NHL must immediately suspend contracts for all Russian players!”
“The NHL must immediately suspend contracts for all Russian players! Every athlete represents not only himself and his club, but also his country and its values and actions. That is a fact. If the NHL does not do so, it has indirect co-responsibility for the dead in Ukraine.”
And concluded his brief ‘Tweetstorm’ with this comment:
I also want to write, that I am very sorry for those Russian athletes, who condemn V. Putin and his Russian aggression in Ukraine. However, at the moment I also consider their exclusion a necessity.
Some comments had a valid point in response–if you want to get all reductionist about it, you can take this to an absurd conclusion. If you start excluding players for the actions of their native country’s government you can easily make a case that the league shouldn’t allow players from the US, Canada and elsewhere.
The Russian business interests of the league are also significant and include a sports betting angle. Included in this group is the NHL’s ‘exclusive Russian sports betting partner’ Liga Stovak–the league announced this partnership in December 2021. Hockey is extremely popular throughout Eastern Europe, The Baltics and Scandinavia which has encouraged the league to try and monetize sports betting in these markets.
Elsewhere in the hockey world, the IIHF has stripped Russia of hosting duties for the 2023 U-220 Junior Championships and has banned teams from Russia and Belarus from competing internationally until at least the end of August. This will keep them out of the World Junior Championships, rescheduled from earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and slated to take place in Alberta. The IIHF sidestepped any emphatic statement on Russia’s invasion and instead suggested it was a pragmatic decision. Here’s a quote from IIHF president Luc Tardiff:
“The IIHF is not a political entity and cannot influence the decisions being taken over the war in Ukraine. We nevertheless have a duty of care to all of our members and participants and must do all we can to ensure that we are able to operate our events in a safe environment for all teams taking part in the IIHF world championship program.”
Before the announcement was made, hockey icon Wayne Gretzky said it was incumbent upon Canadians to press this case:
“I think international hockey should say, ‘We’re not gonna let them play in the world junior hockey tournament. I think we got to, as Canadians, take that stance, since the games are going to be played in Edmonton.”
Canada’s largest cities are known for their multiculturalism. This includes the NHL’s hometown of Toronto. The city is making no secret of its support for the people of Ukraine.