GET IT ALL - How basketball player Brittney Griner became a symbol of US-Russian tensions

GET IT ALL – How basketball player Brittney Griner became a symbol of US-Russian tensions

Arrested in February in possession of a cannabis-based liquid at a Moscow airport, American basketball player Brittney Griner found herself despite herself caught up in a legal dispute that goes beyond the limits of sport. Caught in the grip of a context of major international tensions between the United States and Russia.

Who is Brittney Griner?

31-year-old American basketball player Brittney Griner is considered one of the best players in the world. Double Olympic champion (2016, 2020) with Team USA, the pivot of 2.06 meters for 93 kilos is also a superstar of the WNBA, the women’s basketball championship known to be the highest in the world. Seven times All Star, the one who wears the Phoenix Mercury jersey has established herself as one of the first emblematic figures of her sport.

An important aura that will have allowed “BG” to become the first homosexual athlete sponsored by Nike. Her sexual orientation, revealed at the end of her university career, also makes her a possible victim of the violated rights of the LGBT+ community in Russia.

What do we blame him for?

Since February 17, Griner has been imprisoned in Russia. The basketball player was arrested that day at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow, coming from New York. According to the Russian authorities, the inspection of the hand luggage brought by an American national made it possible to “confirm the presence of vaporizers (and) of a liquid presenting a particular odor”, had indicated the federal customs service of Russia in a communicated. Stating that an expert was able to establish that it was cannabis oil (hashish oil).

If Customs does not first reveal the identity of the woman arrested, they will specify that she was “a member of the American National Basketball Association and two-time Olympic basketball champion with the American team” . The arrest of Griner, who came to Russia to play there during the American off-season, will not be revealed until three weeks later in the United States, on March 5 by the New York Times.

What was she sentenced to?

An investigation had been opened for massive drug transport, while the basketball player was placed in police custody. During her trial opened behind closed doors in Russia in early July, Griner wished to face the court “to plead guilty to all charges”, specifying that she however “did not intend to violate Russian law”. In view of Russian case law in similar cases, the basketball player could expect a heavy sentence, up to 10 years in prison.

On Thursday, she was found guilty of unlawful possession and trafficking of a “significant quantity” of drugs by a court in Khimki, near Moscow. The prosecutor assured that she had knowingly tried to “hide” the cannabis-based liquid from customs officials, condemning the player, who had denied any smuggling, to nine years in detention in a penal colony. His lawyers have announced their decision to appeal this “completely insane” verdict.

I call on Russia to release her immediately so that she can reunite with her wife, relatives and teammates.” Joe Biden, President of the United States

Why is the case getting so big?

“This is unacceptable and I call on Russia to release her immediately so that she can be reunited with her wife, relatives and teammates.” In a press release published after the announcement of the verdict, US President Joe Biden himself took a stand in this case with strong political connotations, given the extent of Russian-American antagonism. Against a backdrop of continued deterioration in relations between the two countries, extrapolated by the conflict in Ukraine, the highest authorities in Washington have declared that Russia is “unfairly” detaining the star.

Addressed by Griner in a handwritten letter shared by his representatives, Biden publicly pledged to work “tirelessly” and to “explore all possible avenues” in order to work for his release. The sentence imposed on the 31-year-old American was also jointly condemned by the WNBA and the NBA. And raised a wave of indignation, especially in the world of sport. A few hours after her sentencing, her Phoenix Mercury teammates observed 42 seconds of silence – like her jersey number – before the start of a WNBA game in Uncasville, Connecticut, in a room moved to tears.

How could the conflict be resolved?

“The Griner Affair”, which began almost six months ago, took a geopolitical turn on Friday. Talks between Moscow and Washington have started on a possible prisoner exchange, of which the player could be a part. Last week, the head of the American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, had already indicated that Washington had made a “substantial offer” to Moscow to secure the release of Griner and another American detained in Russia, Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence for espionage.

“We urge Russia to accept this proposal,” said White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre. “We are ready to discuss this subject, but only within the framework of the channel (of communication) which was agreed by the presidents (Vladimir) Putin and (Joe) Biden”, replied for his part the head of Russian diplomacy. , Sergei Lavrov, during a press conference from Cambodia.

According to several American media, Griner and Whelan could be exchanged for a famous Russian arms trafficker detained in the United States, Viktor Bout (who was one of the inspirations for the film “Lord of War”). Arrested in Thailand in 2008, the 55-year-old man nicknamed “The Merchant of Death” is serving a 25-year prison sentence.

Romain Daveau RMC Sport journalist

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