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5 Aug, 2022 09:01

US basketball bosses react to Griner Russian prison sentence

The WNBA and NBA issued a joint statement after the women's star was jailed in Russia
US basketball bosses react to Griner Russian prison sentence

Basketball officials in America have said that the nine-year prison sentence handed out to women’s player Brittney Griner in her Russian drugs trial was not unexpected.” 

Griner was sentenced at Khimki City Court just outside Moscow on Thursday after she was found guilty of attempting to bring illegal drugs into the country. 

“Today’s verdict and sentencing is unjustified and unfortunate, but not unexpected and Brittney Griner remains wrongly detained,” said WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in a joint statement.

“The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States.”

Griner, 31, was initially detained in February when hashish oil vape cartridges were found in her luggage at Sheremetyevo Airport on the outskirts of the Russian capital. 

The two-time Olympic champion had pleaded guilty in her case, saying that the cartridges had ended up in her luggage by mistake when she was packing in a hurry, and that she had not intended to break Russian law. 

Griner usually plays for WNBA team the Phoenix Mercury in her homeland, but has traveled to Russia to appear for UMMC Ekaterinburg during the offseason since 2015. 

Griner’s case has drawn widespread attention, including at political level. The US has formally classified her as “wrongfully detained, with claims from some quarters that she is being used as a political pawn. 

Moscow has consistently refuted claims that Griner’s case is political, noting that she broke Russian law and must face the consequences like anyone else. 

Last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed that Washington had made an offer of a prisoner swap featuring Griner and fellow American Paul Whelan, who is serving a sentence in Russia on espionage charges.

Blinken held a call with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov last week, although Moscow did not specify the details of any possible prisoner swap.

Media reports have claimed that Russian citizen Viktor Bout, who is serving 25 years in a US prison for arms dealing, could be part of a deal. 

Vadim Krasikov, a Russian national convicted of murder in Germany last year, was also named in some reports regarding a potential prisoner exchange.

Responding to the news of Griner’s sentence on Thursday, US leader Biden claimed it was “unacceptable” and called on Russia “to release her immediately so she can be with her wife, loved ones, friends, and teammates.

Both the NBA and WNBA have held publicity campaigns in support of Griner during her detention in Russia.

Her wife, Cherelle, has previously expressed dissatisfaction with the Biden administration over its handling of the situation.