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Canadian athletes cautioned on speaking out at Beijing Olympics – The Globe and Mail

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People walk near the Olympic Tower during an organized media tour in Beijing, on Jan. 22, 2021.

TINGSHU WANG/Reuters

Canada’s Olympic organizers will warn athletes to watch what they say in China next year, out of fear of a national security law in Hong Kong that has been used to arrest Beijing’s critics.

“There have been dissidents in Hong Kong who have been taken away and charged for saying things that have been contrary to the Communist Party of the Chinese government’s policies,” said David Shoemaker, chief executive officer of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

“So we will talk to our athletes about the implications of what they say and of the topics that they choose to speak about.”

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Athletes have the right to speak freely, Mr. Shoemaker said in an interview with The Globe and Mail, in which he expressed opposition to calls for a boycott of the Beijing Olympic Winter Games next February. Such an action is unlikely to affect Chinese policies toward Muslims or its incarceration of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, he said – and, he added, could even make things worse for the two detained Canadians.

By attending the Olympics, athletes can be part of “the most spectacular sporting event in the world that unites and inspires and amplifies diverse voices,” he said. In Beijing, they “can be part of a conversation.”

Canadian Olympic Committee board member rejects calls for boycott of Beijing Olympics

No cheering, no bars, less intimacy to ensure safe Olympics

But before they go, the Canadian Olympic Committee will also spend “a considerable amount of time” counselling Olympians on what “they might consider not commenting on, perhaps, at least until after the Games have taken place,” he said. “Because of the implications that that could have for them under things like the national security law.”

Mr. Shoemaker is the former CEO of the National Basketball Association in China, which became a target for Chinese reprisal after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey posted to Twitter in October, 2019, a single image that said: “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.” His quick deletion of the tweet did not stop Chinese broadcasters from refusing to air NBA games, companies from cancelling NBA sponsorship or vendors from selling league merchandise. Chinese online giant Tencent did not resume streaming Rockets games until this January, following a 15-month blackout.

It was a vivid example of China’s willingness to mix sport and politics.

Since then, human-rights advocates and some parliamentarians have urged the Canadian Olympic Committee do the same, with calls for a boycott of the 2022 Games. Withdrawing would, they say, serve as a loud protest against a Chinese government that has overseen a dramatic erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong, the mass incarceration of Uyghurs and other Muslim groups in the Xinjiang region, and the detention of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor in what has widely been seen as an act of political hostage-taking. Wednesday marked Mr. Kovrig’s third birthday behind bars.

But Mr. Shoemaker rejected the idea of a boycott, saying such actions unfairly punish athletes and don’t work.

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“I don’t think Canadians want the CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee to be the minister of foreign affairs for a day or two and pretending to be an expert in diplomacy,” Mr. Shoemaker said. A boycott would amount to “a politically inexpensive alternative to real and meaningful diplomacy – because you can call for a boycott and not have to frankly do anything else,” he said.

In China, meanwhile, “I worry, frankly, that not going would be perceived as a grand insult and would worsen the chance of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig being released any time soon.”

Additionally, he said, history suggests Olympic boycotts are ineffective. In 1980, Canada joined the United States and others in refusing to attend the Summer Olympics in Moscow in protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But Soviet forces remained in Afghanistan for nearly a decade after those Games.

“I do not see any indication that the boycott had any impact on the Soviet behaviour in Afghanistan or the fall of the USSR,” although it’s possible it contributed to the Soviet decision not to invade Poland, said Serhii Plokhy, a Harvard historian who is author of The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union.

The family of Mr. Kovrig said it sees little value in discussing a Beijing Olympic boycott.

“My interest is in the earliest liberation of Michael,” said his father, Bennett Kovrig. “Any talk about an eventual boycott strikes me as irrelevant and misconceived. I have no reason to believe that such a threat would move China and be in Michael’s interest.”

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Olympics “promote peace and unity around the world. And I would want Canadian athletes who work very, very hard to be able to participate in that,” said Vina Nadjibulla, who is married to Mr. Kovrig and has been an advocate for his release, although the two are separated.

In Canada’s Uyghur community, however, some say attending the Beijing Olympics would amount to betraying what the country stands for.

“Athletes represent their country’s values. They are the symbol of pride of their nation,” said Rukiye Turdush, an activist who is president of the East Turkestan Information Center.

“Participating in the Olympics in a country where genocide is ongoing is not something that makes Canadians feel proud and inspired. Instead, it makes us feel shame.”

The U.S. State Department and a Canadian parliamentary subcommittee have accused China of committing genocide in Xinjiang.

Beijing’s actions in recent years “meet the test fully” for a boycott, said John Higginbotham, a retired Canadian diplomat who has advocated a Beijing boycott. “What more do we need? Public executions of the Michaels?”

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New York Rangers get OK to interview Gerard Gallant for coaching job

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The New York Rangers plan to interview Gerard Gallant for their head coaching job, TSN reported.

The Vegas Golden Knights, who fired Gallant during the 2019-20 season, reportedly have granted permission.

A first conversation between the Rangers and Gallant was expected to take place quickly, before Gallant heads to Latvia to coach Team Canada at the IIHF World Championship, which runs from May 21-June 6.

Gallant, 57, was the first coach of the expansion Golden Knights and led them to the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season in 2017-18. The Washington Capitals won in five games.

He was fired 49 games into his third season when the team was 24-19-6, and he had an overall record of 118-75-20 with Vegas.

He also coached the Columbus Blue Jackets (2003-07) and Florida Panthers (2014-17) and has a career record of 270-216-4-51 in 541 career games as a head coach.

The Rangers are in the midst of an overhaul. They fired head coach David Quinn and three assistant coaches on Wednesday, following the dismissal last week of team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton.

The Rangers failed to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth straight season after posting a 27-23-6 record in 2020-21. They finished in fifth place in the East Division.

Quinn, 54, compiled a 96-87-25 record during his three seasons as coach of the Rangers after taking over for Alain Vigneault on May 23, 2018.

–Field Level Media

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NHL wants answer on Canada border crossing soon

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The NHL has asked the Canadian government for a decision by June 1 about U.S. teams crossing the border during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, ESPN reported Friday.

 

The Canadian teams played only each other during the 2020-21 season in a revamped North Division because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that will continue during the first two rounds of the playoffs. It’s what happens after that — in the semifinals and finals — that is up in the air.

 

“The conversations are ongoing. We’ve told them we really do need to know by the end of the first round, and that’s around June 1,” Steve Mayer, the league’s chief content officer, told ESPN. “That’s pretty much the date that we’ve talked to them about, saying we have to know one way or another.”

 

Last season, the playoffs were held in bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto.

 

Under current rules, American-based teams couldn’t play in Canada without mandatory quarantines, which would make travel for home-and-away games impossible under the playoff calendar.

 

The NHL and government representatives last talked a week ago, and the Canadian officials submitted a variety of questions for the league’s response.

 

In the interim, Mayer said, the league has discussed the possibility of the Canadian team that advances from the North Division being based in the U.S. for the duration of the postseason. Talks have occurred with officials at NHL arenas where teams didn’t qualify for the playoffs.

 

An NHL source told ESPN this week that the league expects “a positive resolution” to the issue, however.

 

–Field Level Media

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Canada to play 2 more home World Cup qualifiers in U.S.

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As Canada continues to wrestle with the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s national soccer team will play two more of its home World Cup qualifying matches south of the border in June.

Canada will face Aruba in Bradenton, Fla., on June 5, and will take on Suriname in suburban Chicago on June 8, Canada Soccer confirmed Monday.

The games are Canada‘s last two of four matches in CONCACAF Group B. A March 26 Canadian home match against Bermuda was held in Orlando, Fla., which Canada won 5-1. Also, the Caymen Islands were the host team on March 29, when Canada rolled, 11-0.

Only one national team advances to the next round, and Canada and Suriname top the group and the game against Suriname in Bridgeview, Ill., figures to be the deciding match in both teams’ efforts to advance.

Thirty nations from Central and North America are competing in this first round with six group winners advancing to a second round of head-to-head knockout matches for the right to compete in the CONCACAF final round of eight teams competing for four places in the 2022 World Cup. A fifth team from CONCACAF advances to an intercontinental play-in round.

As was executed in Orlando, the match in Chicago will be staged in accordance with the FIFA International Match Protocols supported by the relevant public health requirements.

“We had hoped to play these matches at home with Canadian fans providing the support and momentum to play a tough nation like Suriname in FIFA World Cup Qualifiers,” said John Herdman, coach of the Canadian men’s national team. “The reality of the global pandemic and the priority to keep our communities in Canada safe means the match will be played at a neutral site in Chicago with no home advantage, but we will embrace that challenge.

“Whatever comes at us, we will take it on and do whatever we need to do to advance to the next round.”

-Field Level Media

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