Russia’s newly enacted anti-gay laws have been the No. 1 topic of conversation as the country prepares to host its first Winter Olympiad.
The laws, which ban ”propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” and outlaw gay pride rallies, have largely been met with varying levels of disapproval by international winter sports athletes.
On Monday, however, former New Jersey Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk became the most prominent Olympian to openly support his homeland’s legislation.
“I agree, of course,” Kovalchuk told TSN (via SI.com). “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.”
Fellow Russian All-Star Pavel Datsyuk shared a similar opinion without being as blunt, saying “I’m Orthodox, and that says it all,” when asked about the laws last week, while Alexander Ovechkin avoided the issue altogether (“Our job is to play,” he said. “I’d rather speak about that”).
Henrik Zetterberg, Datsyuk’s teammate in Detroit, has been among those who have been critical of the laws, and several Canadian Olympic hopefuls joined in voicing their disapproval on Sunday.
“On Russia’s stance, I don’t agree with it. I just don’t agree,” Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle told reporters at Canada’s Olympic orientation camp. “I think, gay or not, that shouldn’t change anything. Not a big fan of that.”
“I was part of that ‘You Can Play’ campaign, and I know a lot of guys who are going to be on Olympic rosters,” Lightning center Steven Stamkos said. “It’s a little uneasy with what’s going on over there, but there’s a lot of time and I think things can change.”
The merits of a potential boycott of the Games, which will open this February in Sochi, have been widely debated in the media, with most arguing that choosing not to attend would do more harm than good. While speaking to reporters on Sunday, Capitals goalie Braden Holtby said that he shares this sentiment.
“It’s hard to go into a country that supports something like that,” Holtby said. “I don’t think [a boycott] would do any good. I think it would cause more problems than it would solve. But I think it’s an opportunity for athletes to get together and support a cause that I think a lot of us really have a passion for. And I think we can do lot of good for it.”