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Russian hockey player Ilya Kovalchuk supports country’s anti-gay law

Canadian and US players speak about inclusion, voice opposition to legislation

Russian hockey player Ilya Kovalchuk supports his country's anti-gay law. Credit: hockeyworldblog.com

Like popular pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, Russian professional ice hockey player and former New Jersey Devil Ilya Kovalchuk says he supports Russia’s anti-gay law.

“I agree, of course,” Kovalchuk is quoted as saying on Sports Illustrated's website. “I’m Russian and we all have to respect that. It’s personal, and, like I said, it’s a free world, but that’s our line. That’s our country, so everybody has to respect that.”

But a number of Team Canada and Team USA hockey players adopted a different posture than Kovalchuk's, voicing varying levels of opposition to Russia’s law banning so-called propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors.

“I think that everyone has an equal right to play, and I think we’ve been supportive of that,” Pittsburg Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said, according to Sports Illustrated (SI). “With the Olympics and the controversy around that, I think those decisions and those laws aren’t necessarily something that I agree with personally . . . their laws and their views.”

San Jose Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle, who cites his participation in the You Can Play campaign, gave a more blunt appraisal.

“I don’t agree with [the laws]. I just don’t agree. I think, gay or not, that shouldn’t change anything. Not a big fan of that.”

Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby says it’s “hard to go into a country that supports something like that.”

SI notes that players at USA Hockey's pre-Olympic orientation camp came prepared to answer questions about the ongoing controversy.

St Louis Blues captain David Backes says, “We don’t have to agree with everything they do and they don’t have to agree with everything we do. We’ve got our views and we’ll see how that all pans out.”

Coyotes defenceman Keith Yandle asserted that “hockey is for everyone, and we take that pride in that . . . especially guys in the NHL; we know we cater to all aspects of life and take a great deal of pride in it.”

SI says the American hockey team’s director of player personnel, Brian Burke, took a harder line in opposing the anti-gay laws, saying USA Hockey “deplores” the legislation.

Burke, who is also on the You Can Play board, added, “I think until these laws are repealed, my call on the [International Olympic Committee] and the US Olympic Committee is to make sure Russia is not awarded an international competition of any kind until these laws are repealed. People forget that when the IOC granted these Games to Sochi, these rules were not on the book. They are relatively recent. It has to change. It’s wrong. I don’t think that when you go into a host country you should dictate what they do, but this is a basic human right that is being trampled and it has to change. Until it does, in my mind, no federation should be granted any games of any kind in Russia.”