- Several WNBA players are working out the logistics of leaving Russia where they play during the US women’s league offseason.
- The players agents are asking they not be identified as a precautionary measure.
- The sports world is isolating Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.
Women’s basketball is much more popular internationally than in the United States and–let’s face it–WNBA players don’t make a fraction of what their male pro hoops counterparts do. As a result, the majority of the league’s players compete overseas during the WNBA offseason. This includes several that compete in Russia. With the WNBA season beginning in early May, they’ll usually stay with their international team as late as April or even early May.
That won’t be the case this season–the WNBA players competing in Russia are in the process of working out the logistics to leave. At this point, it’s a proactive move that allows the players to ‘get while the gettin’ is good’ and not run the risk that the conditions in Russia could further deteriorate. Presumably, at least some of the players are not enthused about playing in the country in light of the invasion of Ukraine. The players might not necessarily be returning to the US–some could be heading to other European teams.
Agent Mike Cound explained the situation:
“For me, it’s way past ‘considering’ leaving. I’ve been on the phone with two players in the past few minutes working out flights. It’s really urgent now in terms of there being a dwindling number of flights leaving Russia, and they are going to be hard to get real soon. They are probably fine if they stay put, but if things get worse, that may not be the case. My idea is, ‘Get them out now if we can.’ And if we can’t, we get them to hunker down and stay safe.”
Cound and other agents are working out the travel issues for their clients. One agent indicated that her clients were ‘waiting until Monday’ to make a decision but that she expected them to leave. At this point, none are in immediate danger but could be under certain scenarios. The travel situation out of Russia is expected to get worse before it gets better and it could eventually mean that they’re unable to get out.
The WNBA issued a mealy mouthed statement:
“The few WNBA players who were competing this off-season in Ukraine are no longer in the country. The league has also been in contact with WNBA players who are in Russia, either directly or through their agents. We will continue to closely monitor the situation.”
Asked by ESPN if the WNBA was advising players to get out of Russia while they could, a league spokesman refused to expand on the statement. If they’re not advising players to leave Russia they’re definitely not acting in their best interests.
The WNBA players union also issued a statement:
“We have been in constant communication with our members and their representatives for several weeks, and we’ll continue to stay abreast of current events. We are the union for the 144 all year round, and their safety is the highest concern.”
“We shared information and advisories from credible news sources and urged them to make a plan that included connecting with embassies/consulates and the U.S. State Department’s SMART traveler program.”
If there are any players in the union’s ‘rank and file’ that think the Ukraine invasion is ‘fake news’ they likely have bigger issues than just getting out of Russia. The US embassy in Moscow sent out a security alert that strongly suggested that ‘US citizens should consider departing Russia immediately’:
“An increasing number of airlines are cancelling flights into and out of Russia, and numerous countries have closed their airspace to Russian airlines. U.S. citizens should consider departing Russia immediately via commercial options still available.”
The US State Department was sounding the alarm way back in late January, warning Americans against traveling to Russia because of:
“the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens, the embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, COVID-19 and related entry restrictions, terrorism, harassment by Russian government security officials, and the arbitrary enforcement of local law.”
The State Department has a tendency to make any number of countries seem like lawless dumpster fires and their COVID-19 ‘alert levels’ have bordered on comical. Through no fault of their own, they look like they’ve gotten this one right.