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NHL stars Zetterberg, Hedman speak out against Russia’s anti-gay laws

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Red Wings' star Henrik Zetterberg remains vocal about Russia's anti-gay controversy. [AP]

Red Wings’ star Henrik Zetterberg remains vocal about Russia’s anti-gay controversy. [AP]

By Allan Muir

It wasn’t long after Russia announced that the country’s law criminalizing “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations” would be enforced during the 2014 Sochi Olympics that the clock started ticking on how long it would take the first athlete to come out against it.

American runner Nick Symmonds was first across the line, dedicating the silver medal he won at the track and field World Championship in Moscow to his LGBT friends. “As much as I can speak out about it, I believe that all humans deserve equality as however God made them,” Symmonds told Russia’s R-Sport. “Whether you’re gay, straight, black, white, we all deserve the same rights. If there’s anything I can do to champion the cause and further it, I will, shy of getting arrested.”

Good for him. Of course, Symmonds won’t be a Sochi in February. Hockey players will. And as they start to gather at the Olympic orientation camps that start up next week, you can bet they’ll be asked where they stand on the issue…and how far they’re willing to go to make their point.

Yesterday, presumptive Team Sweden goaltender Henrik Lundqvist declined to comment on the controversial anti-gay laws, stating that “when it comes to the Olympics, I think you should focus on the the sport.”

Nothing wrong with Hank taking that position. After all, not everyone is cut out to be a vocal crusader for human rights (and, to his credit, he has come out in favor of the You Can Play Project).

But a couple of his likely teammates have shown they’re willing to rock the Russians’ boat.

“It’s terrible, just awful,” Henrik Zetterberg told Aftonbladet when asked about the discriminatory laws. “I think that everyone should be able to be themselves. It’s unbelievable that it can be this way, especially in a big country like Russia.”

“That’s completely wrong,” added Victor Hedman. “We’re all human. No one should have a say in what way you’re sexually oriented.”

“The Olympics are there for a reason,” he said. “Everyone should be able to participate and be themselves. Everyone should stand up for the rights of homosexuals.”

Now here’s where it gets really interesting. Zetterberg suggested he’d support the SOK (Swedish Olympic Committee) if they decided to “take a stand” in response to the legislation.

It’s a conversation worth having. But standing up and sitting out are two very different responses, and there’s almost no chance that any Olympic committees will even consider pulling their athletes. In fact, they’ll probably be told to keep their mouths shut, as USOC CEO Scott Blackmun is advising American athletes.

Of course, that advice applies to athletes when they’re in Russia. Until then, it’s going to be very interesting to hear what the players have to say…or if they say anything at all.

That’s especially true in Russia, where Putin’s heroes will stage their own Olympic orientation camp in Sochi starting next Friday.

Think any of them are willing to jeopardize their chance of making the team?

It’s probably worth noting here that the leader of the last host country to have absolutist anti-gay laws suspended them for the duration of the Games.

That was Adolf Hitler back in 1936.

  • Published On Aug 16, 2013
  • 6 comments
    2001mark
    2001mark

    Good on them.  The ability to speak freely is an inalienable right that most ppl in the world do not enjoy.  

    I think a boycott would reward Russia, attending in the face of their backwoods ways would be far more courageous- we're not talking 1980 war mongering, this is beyond politics.

    Rottie20
    Rottie20

    Time for the US, Canada, Germany, Sweden, and other countries put huge pressure on Russia and tell them either lift this stupid ban, or we will boycott the games.  

    If the last sentence of this article does not scare you, then something is wrong with you.  Hitler was the last one to put this into place....remember him everyone?  If this thought process is in Putin's mind, then you have to think he has other issues as well.  

    ITATTRACTS
    ITATTRACTS

    My fav. player and a stand up guy, love Zet. 

    WHO*IS*ESPN
    WHO*IS*ESPN

    funny, article repeatedly using the "G" word but posters can't write it or it is "pending".  And we thought espn was b.s.

    Rick in Huahin!
    Rick in Huahin!

    Also, how about the fact that the Sochi Olympics are on a mass killing site, genocide? No one seems to want to talk about the 1.5 million that were Killed there!

    Nathan12
    Nathan12

    I guess what I wonder is this - we had the Olympics in China in 2008, one of the most brutally repressive regimes on the face of the earth.  That country routinely arrests, beats, tortures, and imprisons all sorts of "non-conformists" including Christians, Buddhists, Falun Gong, democracy activists, and anyone else who does not toe the party line...and there was not the slightest peep of a suggestion of boycotting or otherwise protesting the games there.  Aside from the oohs and aahs over the opening ceremonies, nothing but cricket chirps.  Where were all these defenders of liberty and human rights back then?