What to do about a problem called Alex Ovechkin: A look at the NHLer’s close ties to Putin

What to do about a problem called Alex Ovechkin: A look at the NHLer’s close ties to Putin

Alex Ovechkin is one in all the best gamers in NHL historical past. He is second solely to Wayne Gretzky for particular person objectives scored, and will at some point beat the Nice One in that almost all essential document. 

However there may be a problem: his unabashed assist for Vladimir Putin, Russia’s autocratic chief whose brutal and bloody battle in Ukraine has been condemned by world leaders.

Not solely has Ovechkin by no means criticized the Russian authorities for the invasion, however for years he has saved a photograph of himself with Putin as the profile image on his Instagram account.

Whereas many Russian athletes have been barred from worldwide competitors since the battle started, that hasn’t occurred in the NHL.

Now, some are questioning why Ovechkin hasn’t confronted self-discipline or suspension, regardless of being Putin’s champion.

Alex Ovechkin has for years saved a photograph with Vladimir Putin as his profile image, and shares moments with the Russian president to his 1.6 million followers. (aleksandrovechkinofficial/Instagram)

Captain of ‘Putin Workforce’

As quickly as Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, the Washington Capitals knew they’d a difficulty. 

The subsequent day, the Capitals introduced their captain out to communicate to the media. First, Ovechkin, 37, made a impartial assertion with out assigning any blame.

“Please, no extra battle. It does not matter who’s in the battle — Russia, Ukraine, totally different international locations,” he mentioned.

When requested if he nonetheless supported Vladimir Putin, Ovechkin replied, “Effectively, he is my president.” With regard to the invasion, he mentioned, “Like, I’m Russian, proper?”

WATCH | Ovechkin takes questions on Feb. 25, 2022: 

Alex Ovechkin feedback on Russia’s Ukraine invasion

The day after Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, Russian NHL star Alex Ovechkin briefly spoke to the media, saying, ‘Please, no extra battle,’ however declined to criticize Russia or Putin.

And maybe his most shocking remark? “I’m not in politics, I’m an athlete.”

However Ovechkin has been very a lot a a part of Russia’s political scene since 2014, when Putin’s military first invaded Ukraine, annexing Crimea and scary battle in the Ukrainian area of Donbas. 

Nearly instantly, Ovechkin joined an internet marketing campaign to assist Russia’s actions.

Former hockey journalist Slava Malamud grew up in the Soviet Union however lives in the U.S. and used to write for the largest sports activities paper in Russia, Sport-Categorical. His major beat was masking the Washington Capitals, till he called out Ovechkin for his assist of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in March 2014.

An older man in a black coat and toque stands at a hockey rink with his arm around a younger man. They're on the ice, and the younger man (his son) is in a Baltimore Stars jersey.Former hockey journalist Slava Malamud, proper, together with his son at a hockey rink. Malamud coated the Washington Capitals for Russia’s largest sports activities newspaper till he criticized Ovechkin. He now teaches highschool math in Baltimore, Md. (Submitted by Slava Malamud)

“He took half in a marketing campaign, which was a sequence of photograph shoots with Russian celebrities wherein they promoted the hashtag marketing campaign called ‘Save Youngsters from Fascism.’ The marketing campaign’s message was that Ukraine is a Nazi or a fascist nation which is killing youngsters for some motive.” 

Malamud wrote about this vociferously on his Twitter web page, upsetting Ovechkin and the group a lot they took away Malamud’s credentials.

“The Capitals shut me down fully. They despatched me a letter saying issues like criticizing Ovechkin was out of bounds … and that I am unprofessional and I’d not be welcome in the area.”

Round the similar time, after an embarrassing displaying at the home-turf Olympics in Sochi, Ovechkin captained the Russian group to a gold medal at the World Championships in Minsk, a lesser match with weaker gamers. 

Malamud was there to cowl it.

“Putin went down into the locker room, I used to be there, and Ovechkin [took] the World Championship cup and gave it to Putin. And it was a very medieval feudal scene of a loyal knight presenting the sovereign with the spoils of victory,” the journalist recalled.

“Putin drank from the cup and gave Ovechkin this massive, moist kiss. It was extraordinarily symbolic. No person might have missed the symbolism right here: The wedding of sports activities and energy.”

Putin, who has been utilizing hockey for propaganda functions for years, then invited Ovechkin and the remainder of the group to be feted in the Kremlin. That is the place the notorious photograph that’s now on Ovechkin’s Instagram account was taken. 

A group of men in dark suits stand for a picture, some with ties some without. Front and centre, the only man without a medal, Russian president Vladimir Putin, looks up at and gestures to a tall man with the medal, holding a large gold cup. The medal is blue and pinned on the left lapel. Putin, centre entrance, poses for a image with group Russia’s captain, Ovechkin, after they gained the males’s ice hockey World Championship in 2014, throughout a reception at the Kremlin in Moscow, Might 27, 2014. (Yuri Kadobnov/Pool/Reuters)

The courtship picked up in 2017. Putin called Ovechkin on his wedding ceremony day, and the hockey participant helped type a propaganda car for Putin’s presidential marketing campaign, which he called – in English – the Putin Workforce. 

It was geared towards younger individuals, and Ovechkin personally addressed them in Russian in a brief video.

“Let’s not be embarrassed to be perceived as unhip. I’m for Putin and I’m not hiding it. Putin Workforce!”

WATCH | Ovechkin’s 2017 marketing campaign video for Putin Workforce: 

Ovechkin campaigned for ‘Putin Workforce’ in 2017

Alex Ovechkin has claimed he is ‘not in politics,’ however he has publicly supported Russian President Vladimir Putin for years, together with on this 2017 marketing campaign video. 

Malamud believes this crossed a line.

“That was a message of a politician, a one that has willingly turn into a political ambassador [for someone] who’s selling tyranny.”

Ought to Ovie be punished?

Hockey followers and North People, basically, paid little consideration to all of this till Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine practically a 12 months in the past.

As varied skilled sports activities had been banning groups from Russia round the world, the NHL and the Capitals knew they’d to deal with the truth that there have been dozens of Russian gamers in the league — not the least of them, the famous person Ovechkin.

On Feb. 28, 2022, the NHL issued a statement, condemning Russia’s invasion however took no different steps to self-discipline or droop any of the gamers. On the opposite, they pressured that these gamers would want safety.

“We additionally stay involved about the well-being of the gamers from Russia, who play in the NHL on behalf of their NHL golf equipment, and never on behalf of Russia. We perceive they and their households are being positioned in an especially troublesome place.”

Alex Ovechkin celebrates the 800th goal of his NHL career in the Capitals away jersey in Chicago.Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals celebrates after scoring his 800th profession aim throughout the third interval in opposition to Chicago at the United Heart on December 13, 2022 in Chicago. (Michael Reaves/Getty Pictures)

Since Ovechkin’s three-minute media availability as the battle started, neither he nor the Capitals have commented on the topic.

Earlier than Ovechkin returned to Russia final week due to the loss of life of his father, CBC Information tried to get feedback from him, the Capitals, and the NHL however was rejected by all of them. The NHL by no means responded.

Regardless of the public nature of Ovechkin’s ties to Putin, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman informed a Finnish newspaper in November, “I do not know what Ovechkin’s relationship is with Vladimir Putin.”

No NHL participant, present or former, has spoken out on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine save one — goaltending nice Dominik Hasek.

On Twitter, Hasek, who retired in 2012 and now lives in Prague, called Ovechkin’s assertion “hen shit.” 

A man in a blue shirt with blue eyes sits looks incredulous or exasperated as his hands gesture in front of his chest. Former NHL goaltender Dominik Hasek, 58, who now lives in Prague, called Ovechkin’s remarks about Russia invading Ukraine ‘hen shit’ in a tweet, and thinks he and different Russian gamers ought to be suspended. (Alex Shprintsen/CBC)

In an interview with the CBC, he expanded additional. 

“Alex is the finest commercial for the battle, out of all the Russian hockey gamers — and that is as a result of he’s each the finest shooter and Putin’s trusted propagandist.”

Past Ovechkin, Hasek thinks all of the dozens of Russian gamers in the NHL ought to face suspension.

“The Russian military attacked democratic Ukraine for completely no motive,” mentioned Hasek, who grew up in communist Czechoslovakia.

“Russian hockey gamers in the NHL at the moment are the finest commercial for the Russian battle and Russian crimes, together with the genocide of Ukrainian youngsters. 

“Subsequently, if the NHL doesn’t need to assist the Russian battle and crimes, it should not enable Russian gamers to go on the ice.”

A hockey player (Dominik Hasek) wearing a red and white jersey with a wheel and wing logo on it holds the Stanely Cup in the air, with a smile on his face.NHL goaltender Dominik Hasek lifts the Stanley Cup after the Detroit Purple Wings defeated the Carolina Hurricanes to win the NHL Championship in 2002. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters)

The Canadian and the U.S governments have issued financial sanctions in opposition to many distinguished Putin supporters, however not Ovechkin or different Russian hockey gamers. Hasek thinks they want to intervene, if the NHL will not act.

Szymon Szemberg disagrees. He’s a retired official of the Worldwide Ice Hockey Federation, initially from Poland however residing in Sweden most of his life. 

As a longtime hockey journalist, he is adopted the difficulty from totally different angles and could be very crucial of the Putin invasion. However he does not consider the NHL ought to ban Russian gamers.

Two men stand with a big silver trophy, the Stanley Cup. One is smiling broadly in a sports jacket and buttoned shirt with an open collar, the other has a slight smile and a shirt and tie, with a large official badge hanging from his neck. Szymon Szemberg, proper, with Mats Naslund who gained the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986. Szemberg was an official of the Worldwide Ice Hockey Federation, now retired. (Submitted by Szymon Szemberg)

“You can’t disqualify or ban somebody as a result of he’s from Russia,” mentioned Szemberg.

“I am the first one to say that Ovechkin holds despicable views, however both you may have free speech or you do not.”

Szemberg agrees that the Putin photograph is troublesome to abdomen and has a suggestion.

“If I had been the NHL, I’d encourage him to take it away, as a result of it appears dangerous. It appears dangerous on him, it appears dangerous on the league and it appears dangerous on the Washington Capitals.”

In accordance to Emily Kaplan, a hockey author with ESPN, they’ve already carried out that.

“I used to be informed that the Washington Capitals have requested Ovie to take it down; they’ve requested him to deactivate his Instagram account,” Kaplan reported in March 2022.

“And Ovie, every time, has informed them, ‘If I do each of these, I actually really feel like that’s a signal again house that I’m talking out in opposition to Putin. And I really feel like my household is at risk.'”

How actual is that menace?

This declare is at the coronary heart of the complete story: the concept that if Ovechkin or any of the different gamers had been to criticize Putin or the invasion, there can be horrible penalties for his or her households in Russia.

However Malamud says there is no proof of that.

“That is definitely one thing Ovechkin would need individuals to consider. That is the line that the Washington Capitals have chosen. However nothing might be farther from the fact.”

In the Soviet period, the Kremlin was recognized to retaliate in opposition to the households of dissidents who spoke out from overseas. However nevertheless autocratic and violent Putin has been throughout his 23 years in energy, Malamud says attacking households of critics has by no means been a part of the regime’s modus operandi.

“Putin does not work that manner. He does not go after celebrities. He trusts his loyal propaganda individuals to smear these celebrities and that is it,” mentioned Malamud.

“Putin goes after people who find themselves both powerless and have no person to defend them … or he goes after his political opponents who’re reputable threats to him, like [opposition politician Alexei] Navalny.”

Malamud presents the instance of singer Alla Pugacheva, a beloved star and arguably Russia’s largest celeb for the previous 50 years, who left Russia to stay in Israel when the invasion started. 

Quickly after, she and her nearly equally well-known husband, comic Maxim Galkin, started criticizing the battle. 

Their household hasn’t been touched, Malamud says.

Three people stand on a stage, with flowers at their feet. A woman in a red and pink dress with long hair is in the middle, with a woman in a white dress to her right in the picture, and a man in a black suit to her left. Russian pop singer Alla Pugacheva, centre, on stage at a live performance in Kyiv in 2009 with Ukraine’s then-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, proper, and Russia’s Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin. (Alexander Prokopenko/Pool/Reuters)

“[She] comes out and says very unambiguously in the first months of the battle, ‘That is a crime, we should not be doing this, that is horrible.’ Ovechkin cannot do it?”

There are different examples of Russian celebrities and sports activities figures talking out in opposition to the battle with out recognized penalties for his or her households. 

In Barcelona, Russian feminine soccer star Nadezdha Karpova, whom Lionel Messi took below his wing, has repeatedly used her Instagram account to name Putin names like “scum” and ask that he be prosecuted as a battle prison.

Equally, the retired captain of the males’s soccer group, Igor Denisov, denounced the battle in robust phrases. 

“This battle is a catastrophe, a full horror for me,” he mentioned in an interview with a Russian YouTuber final June. 

A soccer player in red is running after or dribbling a blue and white soccer ball while a player in blue and white approaches him from behind.Lokomotiv Moscow’s Igor Denisov in motion with FC Porto’s Oliver Torres on Oct. 24, 2018 in the Group Stage of Champions League play at RZD Enviornment, Moscow, Russia. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

“I do not know in the event that they jail or kill me for what I am saying, however I am saying what I really feel. And why ought to many individuals who disapprove stay silent?”

When two of Denisov’s sons had been later saved out of an elite soccer program in St. Petersburg, some steered it was punishment for talking out, however the academy denies that was the motive. 

Dominik Hasek is sympathetic, and suggests providing refugee standing to athletes prepared to denounce Putin’s battle, however needs individuals to hold their concentrate on what is going on in Ukraine.

“I do know it is very troublesome for Russian gamers to condemn the battle. I fully perceive. However you may have to suppose about one factor: We’re speaking about perhaps 100,000 misplaced lives [in Ukraine],” he mentioned. 

“So evaluate these two issues, and also you see life is extra essential than perhaps some little bother in Russia.”


Except for Hasek, one different legendary athlete has spoken out, basketball famous person Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose personal NBA scoring document has simply been damaged.

A basketball player wearing a yellow Los Angeles Lakers uniform holds a ball as he poses to a picture with taller man wearing black clothes. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, proper, with Lakers star LeBron James who simply surpassed him as the NBA’s all-time main scorer. In his in style publication, Abdul-Jabbar wrote he thinks Ovechkin ought to be suspended by the NHL and fired by sponsors. (Getty Pictures)

“Ovechkin shouldn’t be a man preventing for equality and in opposition to injustice, simply extra killing. That isn’t a man whose athletic feats I would like to rejoice. Nor do I would like our youngsters to look up to him as a hero,” he wrote in his newsletter.

Abdul-Jabbar mentioned he believes the NHL ought to droop Ovechkin and sponsors ought to fireplace him — writing that whereas athletes can take positions primarily based on their beliefs, in addition they want to take the penalties. 

In the world {of professional} sports activities, together with the NHL, it is common for gamers to face self-discipline below what are called “morality clauses” for unacceptable conduct off the ice or area, together with domestic violence and racist or homophobic slurs.

Final fall, the Brooklyn Nets suspended NBA participant Kyrie Irving for eight video games with out pay for refusing to “unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs” after tweeting a hyperlink to a documentary that included Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories about Jews.

Malamud believes the distinction in Ovechkin’s case is all about what the league believes society finds acceptable — or unacceptable.

Whereas Malamud says the NBA is aware of its viewers cares about antisemitism, he thinks the NHL’s silence is a signal of societal indifference to the battle in Ukraine.

“I imply, you may’t be racist, you may’t be homophobic, you may’t be beating up your spouse and getting away with it in the world of American skilled sports activities. However genocide, the battle of conquest on the different facet of the world — ahh, they determine that most individuals wouldn’t care about it, particularly.”