Dominik Hašek: Speech in the European Parliament

News   |  14.07. 2023

Dear honorable Members of the European Parliament,

Dear all,

Thank you very much for coming.

Firstly, I want to thank Mr. Zdechovský for his kind invitation and the opportunity to speak today in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. I am here to discuss the matters that are very dear to me and which I have been dealing with since the Russian war against the free country of Ukraine has started.

If you allow me, I would like to introduce myself briefly. I was a professional hockey player from 1981 to 2011. My greatest achievements are a gold Olympic medal and two Stanley Cup victories. I played professionally in the United States, Canada, as well as in Europe, in the Czech Republic and Russia. Throughout my long career, I have gained experience from many countries around the world, including the already mentioned Russia.

There are many topics I would like to address today, because I believe that the way our society currently approaches them is dangerous not only for our Ukrainian allies but consequently for our own citizens. This certainly includes the work of our European citizens in Russia.

But you invited me here as a former professional athlete and a multiple Olympian, so my speech will revolve around sport and the Russian imperialist war in Ukraine.

I will talk about why I am convinced that the current rules are completely wrong. They are set in a way that whenever a Russian athlete steps onto the field, into the rink, onto the tennis court or the ice, they become a huge advertisement for the aggressive Russian war and Russian crimes, including the genocide of Ukrainian children. Today, I will explain what needs to be done so that Russian athletes can compete with us without being a promotion for Putin's aggressive war, which already claims the lives of hundreds of thousands on both sides.

I consider it necessary to start from a broader perspective so that you can better understand the current problem in the world of sport.

Every citizen, unless they are dissidents including us athletes is an advertisement for their own country. And each country uses us for its political, commercial, and other goals as needed. Argentina, Italy, Austria, India, Russia, they all do it. Every country does it without exception. It is a very normal thing, and there is nothing wrong with it.

The problem arises when that particular country is engaged in an imperialist war and commits crimes, including the genocide of children, like Russia is doing now. At that moment, Russian athletes automatically become an advertisement for these terrible deeds. And their government further exploits them for that purpose. The saddest thing is that it doesn't matter whether the Russian athlete agrees or disagrees with these terrible Russian crimes! Yes, under the current foolishly set rules, unfortunately, every Russian athlete who competes publicly becomes a huge advertisement for the Russian aggressive war. These are the facts.

And now, I will explain to you how to set the rules so that Russian athletes can compete with us without being a promotion for these terrible Russian crimes.

Of course, the fastest and simplest solution is to ban Russian athletes from competing at all. This would not be a bad solution, and I do not condemn it in any way. This solution was needed, especially at the beginning of the war, because it prevented Russia’s propaganda and saved many Ukrainian and Russian lives. I want to emphasize that just as any advertisement increases sales, advertising war significantly increases the number of dead and maimed people.

And I am not talking only about Ukrainians and their lives, as you may have noticed. My speech concerns Russians as well. I do not want sports to contribute to the escalation of the war but instead lead to its cessation. What I am doing and what I want to achieve can save and will save many lives on both sides and hopefully help to shorten the duration of the war.

So, the first solution to save many lives would be to ban Russians and Belarusians from participating in our competitions.

However, perhaps because I am a former athlete, I want to set rules for Russians and Belarusians that would allow them to compete with us without being a tool for the war propaganda. It means that they would not be responsible for the loss of many lives. Simply put, I want to give Russians and Belarusians a chance to compete with us, perhaps even at the Olympics!

Certainly, everyone is now shocked and asking many questions: "Is that even possible? How could we achieve that? What could we offer them? And what do they need to do?” Those are all valid questions and I will answer them right away: "Yes, it is possible, and it is not complicated at all. But we must really want it and, above all, start acting immediately. Our actions cannot be like those of almost all sports associations and federations, and foremost of the International Olympic Committee.

They stopped communicating with Russian athletes, did not provide them with information about the Russian war in Ukraine, did not educate them. But most importantly those organizations stopped searching for a way to bring them back among us while ensuring that their actions would not be a promotion for Russian crimes. So as a result not more people would die due to their participations in sports competitions.

Firstly: A Russian or Belarusian athlete must condemn (and confirm by signature) the aggression against the free country of Ukraine by the Russian army, the illegal occupation of its territory, and the crimes related to this war.

Subsequently, they must publicly and privately behave accordingly and always be available to the media on this topic. Being always available to media is crucial! A mere statement and signature are not enough. We all know very well that paper can bear anything. A simple statement and signature could happen even after some agreement with Putin, who would then explain it to society as something that was necessary. And the whole effort to help Russian and Belarusian athletes could become the largest sports fraud of the 21st century, even greater than the Russian doping scandal organised by the Russian government. Therefore, the athlete must also act in accordance with what they signed and publicly condemn the Russian imperialist war and the crimes associated with it.

 I want to emphasize that we must not force any Russian or Belarusian athlete to do this. It is solely up to them and whether they decide to publicly condemn the Russian war or not.

And now, what can or rather must we offer in return?

I do not assume that a Russian or Belarusian athlete who decides to publicly condemn the Russian war will be able to stay in their country without being at least harassed. More likely, they will be prosecuted and convicted, and their loved ones will be in danger.

Therefore, it is our obligation, first and foremost, to offer them refugee status in one of our EU countries or possibly in another democratic country in the world. And, of course, same goes for their family and loved ones who will likely be harassed in their home country.

Subsequently, or rather in advance (in terms of time), such an athlete needs assurance that if their performance allows it, they will be able to compete in all competitions taking place within the EU and, if possible, in all democratic countries around the world. This includes guarantees for  obtaining sports visas within the EU and maximum support for traveling to other parts of the world, similarly to EU citizens.

By now, it should be clear that such a courageous Belarusian or Russian athlete would no longer be a promotion for the Russian war during competitions. But not only that! With our help, they would no longer have to live with the feeling that they are responsible for the deaths of Ukrainian civilians and Ukrainian and Russian soldiers.

On the contrary, these proud and brave Russian and Belarusian athletes who decide to publicly condemn the Russian war will become the best ambassadors for the peaceful end of Russian aggression. This effort, which we can help by setting adequate rules in the EU, will save many lives on both sides and prevent massive property damage.

The ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes in our competitions should have been implemented immediately after the outbreak of the war, and their return under strictly defined conditions could and should have followed in the following months.

Unfortunately, even in the world of sports, there are still political and economic pressures that are hindering this. These pressures prioritize the financial income of individual competitions over the value of human lives. Unfortunately, even after 500 days of war and the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives, there are competitions in our world, such as the NHL in hockey, the WTA and ATP in tennis, boxing federation, fencing, table tennis, and other international federations that allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to promote the Russian war in their competitions.

These competitions are directly responsible for supporting the war. This means that they are also responsible for the huge damage in Ukraine and the loss of many lives. Once the war ends, those competitions and sports federations must pay Ukraine appropriate multibillion-dollar compensation for their stance and behaviour from the day the Russian war broke out in Ukraine.

And now, who could and should take care of ensuring that Russian and Belarusian athletes have the opportunity to compete? And at the same time, that their participation in these competitions does not become a promotion of the Russian war.

Certainly, it could and probably should be the International Olympic Committee (IOC) because it is a worldwide organization with the greatest global reach. However, the IOC has done absolutely nothing for Russian athletes so far. Initially, they banned them from participating, which, as I mentioned, was the right solution as it prevented the promotion of the war and saved many lives. However, recently, the IOC has unfortunately changed its stance and left the decision to each federation. Furthermore, they have recommended accepting Russian athletes back! This means that the leadership of the IOC also becomes responsible for Russian crimes in Ukraine.

Nevertheless, I believe that their recent inappropriate behaviour could still be partly rectified, if IOC starts helping Russian athletes to return under the already mentioned conditions.

The IOC should promptly establish clear rules and explain what Russian athletes must do and how they should behave in the current wartime situation to stop being a promotion tools for the Russian war. If these athletes fulfil requirements, these competitions will no longer be a promotion for the Russian war and, therefore, will not be responsible for the deaths of Ukrainian and Russian people.

However, those rules must be very detailed and precise, to prevent them from being interpreted or bypassed in various ways. I repeat, they must be very precise to avoid any loopholes.

I have already described my perspective on how to condemn the Russian war, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) can use it as a guide. If needed I will happily personally assist, in this matter.

Furthermore, the IOC needs to start engaging with the governments of individual EU countries and democratic nations. They should offer refugee status to those Russian and Belarusian athletes who decide to condemn the Russian war and its crimes and who also wish to live according to these principles. The asylum status should also be extended to their immediate family members who might face harassment in their home countries.

Additionally, in collaboration with other sports federations and associations, the IOC must ensure that these brave Russian or Belarusian athletes, who choose to condemn the war, have the opportunity to compete in all competitions worldwide without any discrimination. This should not be a problem at all.

A special aspect of my discussion relates to the Olympic Games!

There is no doubt that any, and I repeat, any participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in the Olympic Games who do not condemn the Russian imperialist war and crimes would be a significant promotion of the war. And I must emphasize something that we all know, although some individuals try to refute it for their personal economic and political interests. It is almost irrelevant whether Russian and Belarusian athletes compete under their national flag or not, whether their national anthem is played or not, and so on. People around the world know who they are, which country they belong to, and what they represent.

Therefore, Russian and Belarusian athletes who do not condemn the war and do not behave accordingly should not be allowed to participate in the Olympics. On the other hand, those who condemn the war and fulfil required conditions should be given the opportunity to participate. For these courageous athletes, I recommend representation under a refugee team. This would not be something new at the Olympic Games. A refugee team has performed at the Olympics in the past. These brave Russian and Belarusian athletes undoubtedly deserve their chance. It is our duty to make it possible for them, just as it was made possible for other refugee athletes in the past.

I have one more critical matter regarding the issuance of sports visas for Russian athletes. Under the current conditions, they can freely travel across the EU thus promote the Russian war and crimes, and no one can stop them according to the valid EU rules.

Even after 500 days since the start of the Russian war, this situation still costs many lives, and is something that deeply troubles me. It is necessary for sports visas to immediately stop to be valid for the entire EU and only apply to the specific country that granted the visa. Until the rules I have outlined here are resolved, please halt the issuance of sport visas to Russian and Belarusian athletes for the entire EU. Such system creates a great danger to our citizens, and above all, this promotion of war costs many Ukrainian and Russian lives. Please stop it!

And now, allow me to briefly summarize my main points:

The fact is that under the current rules, every competition in which Russian and Belarusian athletes participate becomes a promotion of the Russian war and war crimes. This costs the lives of many Ukrainian and Russian people, and it is our duty to immediately stop it. No game is worth more than a human life!

However, I believe it is not right to approach Russian athletes collectively and we must give each of them a chance to participate in sports competitions, just like we do for athletes from our countries.

Therefore, we must set rules for them to have the opportunity not to be an advertisement for the Russian war. Those who disagree internally with the Russian aggression and decide to behave accordingly should not have to live  for the rest of their lives with the feeling that many of their Russian neighbours and Ukrainians died because of their participation in sports competitions.

Thank you very much for giving me the floor to speak before you today and for listening to me in such large numbers. I would greatly appreciate if you pass on my words and opinions and make your political decisions in accordance or at least not in contradiction to my stances.

I hope that my speech reaches the ears and eyes of the International Olympic Committee today and that they begin to help Russian and Belarusian athletes so they can have the opportunity to engage in sports without being an advertisement for the Russian war and crimes. I would also like to express my wish for every sports association and representatives of national and international sports federations to listen and possibly engage in a debate on this topic. I particularly appeal to the NHL, which I still hold dear in my heart. Mr. Gary Bettman, Mr. Pegula, Mr. Ilitch, please read it and make the right decisions.

Finally, allow me to conclude with the words in which I believe and which led me to present these stances here: Not even the greatest game in the world, is more important than human life.

Thank you very much.