By Antonis Stroggylakis/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Khimki Moscow general manager Pavel Astakhov said that the team’s American players are free to decide on whether they want to return to the USA or stay in Russia while all basketball action is suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“The situation is complicated,” Astakhov told Russian website R Sport. “The US State Department issued a statement according to which all [American] citizens should return to the country as soon as possible. You can stay in Europe only at your own risk and it’s not known when they will be able to cross the US border in that case. It’s clear that I, as head of the club, can’t ban a US citizen from returning to his country. Yes, the player is under contract but not in captivity.”
On March 19, the State Department issued a Global Level 4 Health Advisory, cautioning U.S. citizens to cease traveling out of the country and “arrange for immediate return” to the United States unless they are ready to stay abroad “for an indefinite period.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv, Panathinaikos, Olympiacos, Zalgiris Kaunas, Alba Berlin, and ASVEL Villeurbanne are some EuroLeague teams that have permitted their foreign players to return to their countries at their discretion.
“This is a force majeure event and if a player decides that he should be home with his family, we can’t forbid it,” Astakhov said. “I had a meeting with our American players. They asked for the club’s opinion and I said: ‘Guys, the decision is yours.’ We want the players to stay and train but when such a paper comes from an authority of the level of the US State Department, it’s like our Foreign Ministry. It’s not important only if you are an athlete, every citizen will think about it.”
While the EuroLeague has been suspended “until further notice,” the VTB League is currently postponed until April 10. In the meantime, the Russian government has closed the borders for non- Russian citizens until May 1st, so if VTB is resumed as scheduled then no foreign player that leaves the country will be able to rejoin his team when, and if, the games start.
Khimki was the standings leader in VTB when the games stopped being played.
“I warned the players about this. If the games begin in mid-April, they won’t be able to return and fulfill the obligations of the contract. They must understand this. In the next two or three days, we will understand who will remain, who will leave and who will not,” Astakhov mentioned.