Having invaded Ukraine, Russia has reportedly detained a star player of the U.S. Women’s National Basketball Association, sparking controversy.
According to The New York Times on Sunday, the Russian customs authority detained a WNBA player. She was reportedly taken into custody for possessing hashish oil when her luggage was inspected by the customs office at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow. The customs office stopped short of disclosing the player’s name but the detainee has been confirmed to be Brittney Griner through the CCTV footages from the inspection made public by the authority. In Russia, someone who is caught for carrying drug can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
Some international media outlets speculate that Grainer’s detention is Moscow’s protest against mounting U.S. sanctions against Russia. In the wake of Russian invasion of Ukraine, some Western countries including the U.S. have been intensifying sanctions, with seven Russian banks having been excluded from the SWIFT transaction network. “Sanctions currently in effect are similar to declaration of war,” Putin said on Saturday.
Grainer is a flagship center in the WNBA who made the All Stars seven times. She was designated by the Phoenix Mercury as the most preferred choice in round 1 of the 2013 rookie draft, and led Phoenix to win the title in 2014. She played for Team USA at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo to win the gold medal. During WNBA off-season, she played for UMMC Ekaterinburg, a female basketball team in Russia.
When Grainer’s detention made public through the media on Sunday, Phoenix said in a social media post, “We are keeping a close watch on the situation in Russia, and have been constantly communicating with Grainer’ family.” The post earned more than 200 comments from fans, with one commenting “We pray for Grainer’s safe return.”