WNBA players boycott games in Russia after Brittney Griner’s imprisonment

Brittney Griner infront of the Russian flag.

A group of women’s basketball players are refusing to play in Russia unless Brittney Griner is brought back to the US.

The WNBA players said that they were boycotting all matches played in the league’s offseason – which is often held in Russia thanks to the unusually high salaries and amenities offered – until Griner is brought home.

The Phoenix Mercury player was detained by Russian Federal Customs in February after officers found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage at an airport in Moscow. She was eventually sentenced to nine years in a penal colony on smuggling charges following an August verdict.

Since her detainment, there has been a massive campaign by human rights organisations, politicians, fans and fellow players to see her brought back to the US.

The latest boycott by WNBA stars including Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot also came out of a fear that similar incidents could occur.

“Honestly, my time in Russia has been wonderful, but especially with Brittney Griner still wrongfully detained there, nobody’s going to go there until she’s home,” fellow athlete Breanna Stewart said.

An offseason refers to time spent by players training to be at their best for the next major event or season. This is often done by playing for teams in other countries.

Vandersloot agreed that, despite the treatment from Russian teams being generally positive, players aren’t willing to take a significant risk.

“The thing about it is, we were treated so well by our club and made such strong relationships with those people, I would never close the door on that,” she said. “The whole situation with Brittney Griner makes it really hard to think that it’s safe for anyone to go back there right now.”

There could still be hope for Griner’s transfer to the US, however, with her wife Cherelle Griner meeting with president Joe Biden to discuss strategies for her release.

She described the past few months without her partner as “gruelling” in an Instagram post where she is pictured with the president, adding that she is looking forward to “the day my wife is back home.”

“As my family and I continue this journey, I’d like to thank the broad coalition of friends, leaders, and supporters who continue to stand with us and advocate for Brittney’s swift and safe return,” she continued. “Let’s share a unified commitment to bringing all Americans home to their families and loved ones.”