By Rick Westhead
Andrii Bukvych , The Canadian Press
TSN Senior Correspondent
Ukraine’s official diplomatic representative in Canada has asked the Canadian government to stop issuing travel visas and work permits to Russian athletes, a move he says will put more pressure on Russian president Vladimir Putin to abandon his invasion of Ukraine.
“We ask your government to suspend cooperation with Russians in sports, to stop granting visas and work permits to Russian athletes,” Andrii Bukvych, Chargé d’Affaires of the Ukrainian embassy in Ottawa, wrote in a letter sent Wednesday to Pascale St-Onge, Canada’s Minister of Sport. “[Taking] into consideration the gravity of [the] situation, I urge you, dear minister, to consider this request in the shortest possible terms.”
A spokeswoman for St-Onge confirmed the Canadian government received Bukvych’s letter and is preparing a public response.
Bukvych said in an interview with TSN that governments around the world must “send clear messages” to both Putin’s government and to the Ukrainian people through sanctions and more symbolic measures, including banning Russian athletes.
Bukvych said he has been in contact with Ukraine’s embassies in Washington and London to discuss making similar requests of the U.S. and U.K. governments. “The message needs to be very strong,” Bukvych said. “Russia is toxic, and we must make it clear that we will not have anything to do with all things Russian, whether it’s cultural or sports, or anything. It’s not enough right now not to support Putin. There must be concrete actions. The world must isolate Russia in every possible way. This is not a time to be neutral and politically correct.
“It’s not a secret that Russia has weaponized sports. It has hosted sporting events like the World Cup and Olympics as a way of building up its image. Well, now we all have to make a choice. If you are not okay at least in some small way with Ukrainian women and children being killed, then it’s time now to ban everything Russian…This is black and white. It’s about values. It’s literally about a battle for freedom.”
Bukvych said he is not asking that Canada immediately cancel the work permits and visas of Russian athletes who already are here, including those who play NHL and major junior hockey.
“I think we need some time to understand how to do this regarding people who are here already,” Bukvych said. “We do not want to hurt children and families. And hopefully this is a temporary measure.”
Other countries are also beginning to shut their doors to Russian athletes.
The Norwegian Ski Federation on Feb. 26 said it was banning Russians from competing in events in Norway moving forward.
“The Norwegian Ski Federation’s message to Russia and Russian athletes is crystal clear: We do not want your participation!” the federation said in a statement. “Sport is not detached from this and cannot remain passive to what is happening now.”
Belgium’s immigration minister has also called on European Union states to stop issuing visas to Russian nationals, saying on Feb. 24, “At the moment, Russians are not welcome here, a general visa ban for Russians should not be a taboo.”
A day before the Norwegian ski federation took a stand, former Canadian Olympian and long-time human rights advocate Bruce Kidd told TSN in a Feb. 25 interview that Canada’s federal government should suspend future travel visas to Russian athletes in the wake of the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
“People’s first response may be to say, ‘Why do you do that? It’s a free society, they should be able to come here,’ ” Kidd said. “No. We would be saying that we are showing the world that we oppose in the strongest terms Russia’s actions. Russia has begun to carry out warfare against a duly constituted independent democratic nation. While there have been sanctions against Russia, the response should not just be in the financial realm. It should be in all aspects of civil society, including sports.”