Between now and the time the Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, Russia in February, there will be plenty of debates over whether the U.S. should use the Games as a political football.
With tensions rising between the U.S. and one of Russia’s strongest allies, Syria, there is growing concern that a boycott of the Olympic Games could become a real possibility in the coming months.
“You’d like to think everything is apolitical, but I think history shows us -- and already things are stirring up with these Olympics – that they’re not,” St. Louis Blues captain David Backes said earlier this week while attending the U.S. men’s hockey Olympic orientation camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
“Whether it’s boycotts or other happenings, there are always some other underlying things. Unfortunately, political stuff gets dragged into it, but we’re going there to participate in what is hopefully a phenomenal Olympic Games put on by the Russian Federation.
“We’ll let the real good politicians fight out the political views and find some common understanding.”
Earlier this month, a political firestorm was ignited when Russian president Vladimir Putin passed laws criminalizing “homosexual propaganda.” Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who is from Moscow, declined to comment on the laws and the impact they would have on the 2014 Olympics.
But others, including Backes and Team USA general manager David Poile, expressed strong opinions.
“It’s a free country and we can talk about it,” Poile said. “Obviously, we support the constitutional rights of the United States.
“Personally, David Poile, I’m the general manager of this team. I’m a hockey guy. I don’t like what they’re doing, but I don’t want to make that part of my repertoire on a daily basis for this program.”
In April, Wizards center Jason Collins became the first NBA player to announce that he is gay. Backes said he supports all athletes, regardless of their sexual orientation.
“We had our first gay professional basketball player come out this year and my stance then, and is now, is that anyone is welcome in my locker room that lives that lifestyle,” he said.
“I don’t care if you’re black, white, green, purple, gold. As long as you’re committed to the team aspect of our game you’re always welcome on my team.
“We’re going over there [to Sochi, Russia] to play a great sport, but we don’t have to agree with everything they do and they don’t have to agree with everything we do.”
Earlier this month President Barack Obama said he did not think it was appropriate for the U.S. to boycott the Sochi Games because of anti-gay laws.
“We’ve got a bunch of Americans that are training hard, who are doing everything they can to succeed,” Obama told reporters. “Nobody’s more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and -lesbian legislation that we’ve been seeing in Russia.”
Backes agreed, saying the position of the NHL and USA Hockey is that hockey is for everyone.
“As an American who believes in the freedoms we have and the way we run our society and culture,” Backes said, “everyone has their right to participate in sport and live the lifestyle they want.”