Basketball star Brittney Griner’s politically charged entanglement in Russia might give different athletes pause when pursuing contracts in authoritarian states, although sports observers say financial want is what drives them to hunt alternatives overseas in the primary place.
And except that modifications, gamers being supplied a greater alternative some place else might be tempted to pursue it, regardless of the dangers.
Griner, a 31-year-old WNBA star, had been heading to Russia to play basketball every winter — reportedly banking a $1-million US paycheque, greater than quadruple what she made again residence.
Matt Slan, the founder and CEO of Slan Sports Management, a Toronto-based firm representing basketball gamers, instructed CBC News that Griner’s story appears prone to function “a harsh warning signal” to different athletes, however not essentially a complete deterrent to taking part in in related authoritarian jurisdictions.
In Russia this week, Griner was sentenced to spend 9 years in jail on drug possession prices. The highest ranges of the U.S. authorities say they’re actively combating for her launch.
As rich states from Russia to China and Saudi Arabia look to increase their footprints in skilled sports, the lure of high salaries is prone to proceed drawing some athletes from democracies, enterprise observers mentioned, regardless of Griner’s imprisonment.
Griner’s sentence got here in live performance with a conviction for drug possession and smuggling — regarding vape cartridges containing hashish oil discovered her baggage. She instructed a Russian courtroom she inadvertently packed them.
“It’s extremely unfortunate what’s happening to Ms. Griner,” mentioned Michael Naraine, an affiliate professor of sport administration at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., who views her as being “collateral damage” in a broader tensions between Russia and the U.S.
Naraine mentioned her case has been carefully watched in the sports world — and its implications have been sinking in.
“This is something that’s been on the minds of athletes,” he mentioned.
Better cash overseas, extra roster spots
Athletes trying to play in leagues removed from residence are normally doing so as a result of of the paycheques, observers mentioned.
That was the case for Griner, who, like different WNBA gamers, went to Russia to complement her revenue.
Naraine mentioned this actuality sends athletes in search of higher alternatives, and never simply in Russia.
“There is a reason professional women’s basketball players have to go play in Australia, Russia, Lithuania, you name it,” he mentioned.
This stands in stark distinction to many of their male counterparts in the NBA, he added, as they make far extra money at residence.
Nneka Ogwumike, the president of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, mentioned that is precisely why Griner performed in Russia.
“The reality is that she’s over there because of a gender issue — pay equity,” Ogwuimike instructed ABC’s Good Morning America, earlier this 12 months, noting that she, too, had performed basketball in Russia.
As of Friday, reviews point out Moscow stays open to discussing a proposed prisoner swap that might deliver Griner and one other imprisoned American residence, in alternate for a convicted Russian arms vendor.
But it isn’t clear if, or when, that may occur.
When it involves the forces main athletes to go overseas, Slan mentioned one other issue is that the massive leagues in North America solely have so many roster spots.
That means athletes might should make robust selections in order to pursue their profession.
“There are 144 WNBA roster spots, and 510 NBA roster spots,” he mentioned. “Outside of these top leagues, some of the top paying teams in the world reside in countries like China and Russia.”
And it isn’t simply the sport of basketball that’s providing extra profitable alternatives.
“China is one of those jurisdictions where athletes go to play in order to get their salaries to a place where they can have a comfortable living,” mentioned Brock University’s Naraine, noting there are alternatives for Canadians taking part in hockey and different sports there.
The wider world exterior sports
Slan, whose firm has seen shoppers play in 40 nations all over the world, mentioned he appears to be like on the wider context when weighing worldwide choices for shoppers.
“I try to fully prepare my clients for every situation,” he defined, and assessing dangers is an element of that course of.
Though, as his shoppers have discovered, the surprising can occur.
“I had clients playing in Ukraine last season, just before the Russian invasion,” mentioned Slan.
“While prior to the season, there was no way to understand that a Russian invasion was imminent, I was able to guide my clients safely out of the country and out of harm’s way.”
Andrew Zimbalist, a professor emeritus of economics at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., mentioned the Griner case might drive athletes to think about extra alternatives in leagues working in democratic nations.
“First, if I were a player agent, I would use all my powers of persuasion to keep them from playing in Russia and I would warn them about playing in other authoritarian countries,” mentioned Zimbalist through e-mail. “Second, leagues in democratic countries will become more attractive.”
Slan concurs — and mentioned security and financial stability are key components that have to be weighed when athletes make a call about the place to play.
“Countries like Germany and France have become more appealing,” mentioned Slan. “Maybe they don’t pay as much as some other leagues, but they are safe and players’ salaries come on time. There’s value in that.”