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LILLEY: Ovechkin shouldn’t be welcomed into Canada, let’s hope Toronto shuns him – Toronto Sun

His athletic skills are amazing, but his support for a genocidal dictator is disgusting

Published Jan 28, 2023  •  Last updated 1 hour ago  •  3 minute read

26 Comments

How can we celebrate a hockey player who backs a murderous dictator as he invades another country?
(FILES) In this file photo taken on May 29, 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) holds a certificate, along with Russian national ice hockey team member Alexander Ovechkin (2nd L), thanking Ovechkin for his efforts to help Russia win the 2012 World Championship. Photo by AFP PHOTO / RIA NOVOSTI / POOL / /Toronto Sun

Sadly, on Sunday night, barring a last-minute scratch by coach Peter Laviolette, Alexander Ovechkin will hit the ice in Toronto against the Leafs.

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We should all want to celebrate magnificent athletes, which Ovechkin definitely is, but he’s also an ardent supporter of a murderous, genocidal monster named Vladimir Putin.

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That’s why I can’t cheer for Ovechkin and wish the Trudeau government had done the right thing and denied him an entry visa.

That’s what the Ukrainian Canadian Congress had asked the federal government to do, it’s what an online petition called for, simply deny entry to Ovechkin. On Thursday, it was announced Canada would send tanks to Ukraine, on Sunday Putin’s propaganda machine takes to the ice when the Washington Capitals visit Scotiabank Arena.

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Let’s hope he’s booed with every touch of the puck as he has been in visits to Calgary and Edmonton.

Each time I’ve written about Ovechkin and his problematic support for Putin, I’ve been told that he’s simply a hockey player and we shouldn’t mix politics and sports. Well, somebody should have told that to Ovechkin before he organized the political operation known as Putin Team in 2017 to help his friend get re-elected in Russia.

Somebody should have told Ovechkin that sports and politics don’t mix before he posted Russian propaganda messages in support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014 that saw Putin annex Crimea.

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Back in 2014, Ovechkin posted a photo to his Instagram feed, the same one that features a photo of his smiling with his friend Putin, that said, “#SaveChildrenFromFascism.” He was wearing a T-shirt that said “No War” while holding a sign with the hashtag that was used as an excuse for Russian aggression in Crimea and Ukraine’s Donbass region.

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Would we have so easily accepted an athlete supporting Adolf Hitler coming into our towns, our arenas, our stadiums in the 1940s? Would such an athlete have been celebrated like Ovechkin is now?

With each atrocity carried out by his friend and president, Ovechkin should be asked if he still supports Putin. Each time a school or hospital is bombed by Russia, Ovechkin should be asked if these are actions he can support from his friend.

Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin pursues the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third period at Scotiabank Arena Oct. 13, 2022.
Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin pursues the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the third period at Scotiabank Arena Oct. 13, 2022. Photo by Dan Hamilton /USA TODAY Sports

That won’t happen, it’s far easier to beat up on someone like Ivan Provorov, another Russian who plays for the Philadelphia Flyers and was recently roasted in all corners.

Provorov wasn’t denounced for supporting Putin, he wasn’t told by veteran sports broadcasters that he should go back to Russia for supporting the war against Ukraine. The sin that Provorov committed was deciding not to warm up with the Flyers ahead of a game when the team was wearing gay pride jerseys for warm up – not the game, the warm up.

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Provorov explained that he respects everyone but he couldn’t wear the jersey because of his religion. He faced a much harsher backlash and scrutiny than Ovechkin has in the 11 months since the war started.

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Russia wasn’t invited to the World Juniors over Christmas in Halifax. In fact, the tournament was supposed to be played in Russia but was moved after the invasion. Russian players have been banned from various sports and tournaments, but not the NHL.

I’m not even calling for Ovechkin to be kicked out of the league, I just don’t think we should invite athletes who support genocidal dictators we are currently fighting into our country. Let’s hope fans give Ovechkin the kind of cold and hostile welcome he deserves.

blilley@postmedia.com