Ilya Kovalchuk supports Russia's anti-gay laws; U.S., Canadian players disagree

Martin Rose

Several American and Canadian Olympic hopefuls have spoken against Russia's anti-gay laws. Meanwhile, Ilya Kovalchuk is the latest Russian to show his support for them.

Ilya Kovalchuk is the latest Russian to chime in on his country's anti-gay laws -- those which could in theory imprison homosexual athletes participating in Sochi -- and his words likely won't go over well in North America. Speaking to TSN, via SI.com, Kovalchuk said the following about those laws:

"I agree, of course," said Ilya Kovalchuk. "I'm Russian and we all have to respect that. It's personal and, like I said, it's a free world, but that's our line. That's our country, so everybody has to respect that."

That sound you hear is a sigh of relief from the New Jersey Devils public relations department, who now have one less headache to deal with in the run-up to the Sochi Games in February.

There's certainly a cultural difference at play here. The topic has come up at both Olympic camps in both Canada and the United States this week, with reporters asking players to chime in on the issue. Across the board on this side of the Atlantic, players have come out in support of gay rights.

Crosby spoke in favor of gay rights on Sunday at Team Canada's press conference, and other players have done so both prior and since the opening of Olympic camps. Add Dan Boyle and Braden Holtby to the list.

St. Louis Blues forward David Backes and Toronto Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk were just two players who spoke at length about the issue at USA's camp in the Washington, D.C. suburbs Monday. Here's some of what Backes had to say, via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

The position of USA Hockey is hockey is for everyone. As an American who believes in the freedoms that we have and the way we run our society and culture, everyone has their right to participate in sports or live their lifestyle the way they want. I'm supportive of anyone. We had our first gay basketball professional athlete come out this year and my stance was then and is now that anyone is welcome in my locker room with the St. Louis Blues that lives that lifestyle. I don't care if you're black, white, green, purple, gold, what you think, as long as your committed to the team aspect and the way that we're playing, you're always welcome on my team.

Russian reporter Slava Malamud, who is based in the D.C.-area, tweeted about the general feeling in his home country over this issue, saying that "I think Russia, by the ratio of 95/5 is pro-law," and that more Russian players should follow the lead of Alex Ovechkin. Ovi has not commented publicly on the issue.

Last week, Pavel Datsyuk came out in support of the laws, and Kovalchuk's comments are just more kindling on the fire. Expect this to be a topic of conversation all the way up until the puck drops in Sochi, and perhaps beyond.

More from SB Nation NHL:

Longform: Hockey's first African-American superstar?

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Finding the rare power forward

Team Canada could shake up 2010 gold-winning team

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