On Wednesday, former NHL goaltender and Hockey Hall of Fame member Dominik Hašek released a powerful message on the ongoing war in Ukraine, with reference to the role of Russian athletes, governing bodies and supporters.
A product of Pardubice, Czechoslovakia, Hašek has long been a vocal supporter of equal rights and fair treatment of individuals both from his homeland and those in neighbouring countries. His full open letter can be found below.
“To Whom It May Concern:
I have written the attached open letter to draw global attention to how some sporting competitions in the world are now contributing to the war unrest in Europe that is claiming hundreds, even thousands, of lives every day. It’s in an effort to save these lives and speed up the end of the war in Ukraine. Russian athletes should not participate in international competitive sport at this time for the reasons attached. I am asking all sports leagues around the world to consider this decision. See attached for details and share with anyone you think can make a difference.
“Even the most greatest game in the world is not more than human life.”
OPEN LETTER TO:
Owners, Management and Members of the NHL, WTA, ATP, and other Professional Sports Leagues, Federations, and Organizations Across the Globe
As a long-time professional hockey player, Olympic champion, tennis player (until my teenage years) and still an active athlete, but above all as a citizen of the Czech Republic, I am writing you this open letter.
On February 24, 2022, the Russian army entered the territory of Ukraine. This war is an offensive one and its goal, as the Russian leadership itself has declared, is the acquisition of additional territories. There’s proof in the manipulated referendums in the territories of Ukraine conquered by Russia. Russia misused these illegal votes to officially annex the conquered territories.
We do not know exactly how many Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have died as a result of Russian aggression. These are at least tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, lost lives. It has been documented that the Russian military has been destroying civilian buildings and civilian infrastructure on Ukrainian territory, leaving tens of millions of people without electricity and gas and at risk of freezing in the coming months. Russian soldiers are committing war crimes including torturing and killing civilians. Russia is even deporting thousands of Ukrainian children from their native country and thereby committing genocide.
Russia must bear full responsibility for all its appalling crimes. After the victory of Ukraine and the departure of Russian troops from its territory, Russia will have to pay for the economic damage it has caused on foreign territory. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of lost lives, including the lives of many children, will not be returned to anyone.
That is a brief summary of the current situation. But what is your attitude towards this aggressive war? To this day, I have not read or heard anywhere from your side of an unequivocal condemnation of Russian aggression, including the crimes committed. By tolerating the participation of Russian athletes, every competition organized by you knowingly donates billions of dollars to Russia to advertise its aggressive policy.
It is a fact that every citizen, and therefore every athlete, represents their country. So, every athlete has a huge advertising and marketing value for that country. That value is greater the more recognized the competition and the more successful the athlete. Every state uses that to its advantage to promote its political interests and goals.
We all know very well that the interest of the aggressive Russian policy associated with war crimes, including the genocide of Ukrainian children, is an offensive war with the aim of acquiring new territories at the expense of a democratic country. Thereby destroying all values that form the basis of our democratic culture. By allowing Russian players to enter your competitions, you have decided to support all of this.
The fact that you have done nothing, after almost 300 days of war, and continue to tolerate the participation of Russian athletes in your competitions (giving Russia many billions in advertising for the implementation of its aggressive policy), I consider inexcusable. You are, therefore, fully responsible for the irreversible damage caused by the Russian army in Ukraine, including wasted lives.
I consider it important to also mention Russian athletes who, like all of us adults, are responsible for the actions of their country. First of all, I want to emphasize that every Russian athlete has the right to any opinion about the war in Ukraine, and we should always respect that. Of course, this does not mean that we have to agree with it. However, unless we want to support Russia’s war in Ukraine and all the horrors that come with it, we cannot allow Russian athletes to compete with us at this time. I do not consider their non-participation in any way a sanction against them, but to encourage an end to this war thereby saving tens of thousands of lives, including their fellow Russian soldiers, who were recruited to fight.
I want to believe that in the short-term you will decide to stop supporting the war in Ukraine and will not allow Russian athletes to advertise Russia’s aggressive policy in your competitions, as most competitions in the world have decided. If you make this choice, I would like to use this letter to ask you for maximum support for all “your” Russian athletes in this difficult time for them, when they will not be able to participate in our competitions. This should come in the form of financial support not only for each athlete, but also for their family, including quality health insurance. This should be easily achievable in collaboration with the NHLPA, and I believe that the WTA and ATP can also solve this.
Another thing we can provide to Russian athletes is education. First, we have to educate them on why they cannot compete at this time. Furthermore, we need to provide them with historical facts dating back to 2014 when Russia annexed the Ukrainian Crimea, to the present day. And compare it to the rise of fascism in Germany in the 1930s with all the crazy consequences that followed. This could be provided through an online course.
Above all, we can teach them what they can do as citizens of Russia in order to end the war as soon as possible, to save as many lives as possible, and to start competing with us once again.
This is the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II and many of you are very far away from it and not forced to live in fear for your loved ones because of it. You don’t feel it as intensely as the people in the countries bordering Ukraine, who know that if Ukraine falls, Russia will most likely attack them as well. Nevertheless, try to imagine how terrible it would be if one of your neighboring countries decided to acquire your territory and would simply attack you, and partially or completely, raze cities such as Montreal, Minnesota, Valencia, Manchester, Frankfurt, Bordeaux, Melbourne, Goteborg, Montevideo, or others. You would lose a few relatives, some even your wives or husbands. The children, though not all, would mostly survive, but many would be taken away by the aggressor and likely never seen again. Those of you who live in other cities will spend most of the winter frozen without electricity, afraid that a bomb will hit you or your children at school tomorrow and you will never see each other again. For you, at this moment, it may be a fantasy, but for Ukrainians it is a daily reality under Russian fire.
Hopefully this request will also help you understand why it is not right to continue to provide advertising to Russia for the realization of its imperialist goals, which lead to enormous economic damage and, above all, to loss of life.
Unfortunately, damage has already been done on your part. Sooner or later, the experts will count these multi-billion-dollar Russian war ads for you, and I think it is right that you will have to pay them back to Ukraine.
Nevertheless, I am convinced that so many things can still be corrected to a certain extent and that your competitions, in the short-term, can play a very important positive role in accelerating the end of Russian aggression and thus saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Of course, it depends on which priorities will play a major role in your decision. However, if the saying that “even the greatest game in the world is not more than a human life” applies to you, then I have no doubt that you will make the right decision and that you will contribute to a faster end to the conflict and in turn, save many thousands of lives.
P.S. This letter is addressed to the NHL, WTA and ATP, but I would appreciate if all the leagues and competitions in the world, especially the International Olympic Committee, read and consider it.”