Welcome Matt: Should NHL punish Russian players to oppose Putin?

Feb 28 2022, 11:40 pm

The Welcome Matt can be heard weekdays on Sekeres and Price. Stream the live show at SekeresAndPrice.com Monday to Friday, or download the latest podcast.

FIFA has finally come around to doing the right thing with World Cup qualifiers against Russia looming, and opposing nations saying they won’t play them.

The IIHF is banning Russia and Belarus from international competition and revoking tournaments scheduled for the country.

And throughout the world, athletes are taking a stand against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — including tennis star Elina Svitolina of Ukraine who said she would not play a Russian opponent at the Monterrey Open.

While it is not fair to hold actions of the Russian state against Russian athletes around the world, war in itself is not fair — anything but. Russian athletes not being able to participate in sport is hardly a great injustice, comparatively speaking.

The NHL suspended business operations with Russian companies and its Russian-language social media operations.

Is that enough? Or should the league look to move on Russian players as Hockey Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek suggested on the weekend?

While that may seem extreme, it is clear that isolating Vladimir Putin and his propaganda tools — athletes and sport among them — is a global strategy from those countries and peoples who support Ukraine.

Freezing financial assets and economic restrictions are the heaviest hammers, but a comprehensive strategy means branching out into other walks of life like sport and the arts — no longer safe spaces of cultural exchange and bridge-building, sadly.

We’ve tried that through Olympic Games and FIFA World Cups, to no avail.

As you’ll hear on our show today from Slava Malamud, a Russian hockey journalist, sport has a propaganda importance to the Russian state that hasn’t changed since the Soviet days, and cannot be fully appreciated by North Americans.

Hockey and tennis are at the forefront — the latter is a global sport, the former is a big commercial sport on this continent.

Gary Bettman and his governors don’t have the guts, but calling some of these Putin-supporting players on the carpet and threatening the duality of a cushy living playing hockey in North America with active support of Putin back home.

That’s something I could get behind.

Matthew SekeresMatthew Sekeres

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