US basketball star will be detained in Russia for months, state media confirms

Brittney Griner, a basketball player, holds up her Olympic gold medal while wearing a white Team USA jacket

US basketball icon Brittney Griner’s detention has been extended for another two months, according to a state news agency. 

The Olympic gold medallist and Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) star has been held in Moscow since February when customs officials allegedly found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. 

News of Griner’s arrest didn’t make headlines until early March, and Russian state TV recently released a photograph of the out athlete in custody holding up a piece of paper

Amid concerns for the top athlete’s safety and calls for her return home, a Russian court has ruled that Griner’s detention will be extended until 19 May. 

Major Russian state-owned news agency TASS reported that the Khimkinsky court in the Moscow region had “granted the request of the investigation” and extended Griner’s custody for an additional two months. 

The WNBA star faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty by the Russian court. 

Brittney Griner wears a purple and orange Phoenix Mercury jersey during a basketball game

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury is seen during the game against the Indiana Fever on 6 September 2021. (Getty/Michael Hickey)

Ekaterina Kalugina – a member of the Public Monitoring Commission, which is a semi-official body that can access Russian prisons – told TASS that the basketball star was sharing a single cell with two other women, who had no previous convictions. 

According to Kalugina, Griner’s main issue with her imprisonment was that the prison beds are too small for her tall frame. 

Griner is among a dozen WNBA stars who played in Russia or Ukraine this past season, with Griner playing professional basketball in Russia for the last seven years. 

All except Griner have successfully left since Russia invaded Ukraine

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton has joined the growing number of people calling for Griner’s release, tweeting “Free Brittney” on Wednesday (16 March). 

WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said that the league is working with other agencies to bring the Phoenix Mercury star centre home, according to the Associated Press

“Everyone’s getting the strategy of say less and push more privately behind the scenes,” Engelbert said. 

“It’s the strategy you get from the State Department and administration. It’s our number one priority in talking with her agent and strategists.”

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the government agency is “doing everything we can to support Brittney Griner” and her loved ones as well as to “work with them to do everything we can, to see that she is treated appropriately and to seek her release”.