Russia’s new, repugnant “anti-gay” laws have earned that country almost global condemnation, casting a pall over the approaching 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
It’s sparked calls for nations or Olympic athletes to boycott the Games in protest.
History has shown, however, boycotts have little effect upon the Olympics. Too much money has been invested, not just by the host country but also, as The Huffington Post’s Yoni Goldstein recently observed, by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), media and advertisers.
Goldstein also noted it would be unfair to force amateur athletes to boycott an event they’ve been working toward for years.
He instead suggests the NHL should boycott the Sochi Games, arguing the already well-compensated players don’t need the medal money, while noting the lukewarm attitude of the team owners toward Olympic participation.
What people believe the NHL “should” do and what they will do are different things.
The NHL recently completed months of laborious negotiations regarding its participation in the Sochi Games with the IOC and the International Ice Hockey Federation(IIHF). Breaking those agreements could result in lawsuits against the NHL, as well as costing the league a cut of Olympic advertising and broadcast revenue.
True, most NHL team owners aren’t fond of shutting down for three weeks and watching their best players risk injury in a tournament which has no impact upon the NHL standings or Stanley Cup playoff seeding.
Having recently emerged from a lockout which cost them half a season, however, the team owners won’t risk conflict with the NHL Players Association, whose membership endorsed participation in the Sochi Games.
The real reason there won’t be an NHL boycott is the league’s top Russian players made it quite clear years ago they’ll represent their country, with or without the approval of the league and their respective NHL teams.
Nobody within the NHL wants to risk the embarrassment of their top Russian stars heading for Sochi without league permission.
Russia’s anti-gay laws will remain an issue in the months leading up to the Sochi Games, provoking more reaction from Olympic-bound NHL stars, as well as from athletes in other sports attending those Games.
Sweden’s Henrik Zetterberg and Victor Hedman have already stated their opposition to those laws, but remain committed to representing their country in Sochi. More Olympic-bound NHLers could volunteer their opinion in the coming weeks. They’ll certainly be questioned by the media, especially Russian NHL stars.
While boycotts won’t happen, the Russian government is setting itself up for protests – overt or otherwise – from the athletes during the Sochi Games, including potential medalists. Whether those protests involve NHL players remain to be seen.
The NHL could warn its players to keep their views private in Sochi to avoid an international incident, as Russian government officials claims visiting Olympic athletes will be subjected to the same law as Russian citizens.
However, those officials might not risk international incidents sullying their games by arresting foreign athletes who voice their opposition – by word or deed – against their hateful laws.
Whatever happens, the NHL will be at the Sochi Games.