With the inevitable news that came out of Russia last week saying that Henrik Zetterberg would not only be missing the remainder of the 2014 Sochi Olympics but also possibly the rest of the 2013-2014 NHL season, the age old (okay, several year old) debate involving Team vs. Country has ignited once again. The debate as many of you know involves the idea that the Olympics are based on: Playing for and defending your home country is not only an honor but a right of every athlete in the world. This is even more so a fact in the European Countries and in Russia, where it is an even bigger deal then winning the Stanley Cup. The Gold medal is the highest mark for many athletes and holds an allure that many people in the US fail to understand.
As an American citizen (and more importantly in regards to this article) an American Sports fan, I am one of those people who do not understand the gravitational pull that the Gold Medal holds on some people. With that being said though, I do not fault anybody for wanting to attain this prize and I certainly will not use my naive understanding of this desire to influence my judgment on the subject. My problem lies with the simple understanding of a contract that these athletes have signed with the NHL teams that pay their salaries in return for their performance on the ice in North America. A salary that even on the lowest end of the spectrum, is just under half a million dollars, not exactly minimum wage in anyone’s definition of the word(s).
It’s Just a Contract After All
Contracts as most people are concerned is something that you sign in order to get some sort of guarantee in regards to compensation in return for an act or job that you will be doing or performing for somebody who is willing to pay you for your work. A very long-winded and silly description for sure; but one that more or less describes the basic idea behind the concept. You say you will do said job and in return your employer gives you money to do that job.
Henrik Zetterberg signed a contract like this with the Detroit Red Wings.
I do not know the specific details of this contract but I have a feeling it has something to do with him playing hockey for the Detroit Red Wings and in return for his work he will be handsomely paid. Something that he has been doing very well now for over a decade and will most likely continue to do until he is ready to retire. This has been a blessing for the Wings organization and has been a joy to watch as a Wings fan. I love Hank and I hope he plays for another five or six years.
As everyone knows Zetterberg has been dealing with a lingering back injury for the duration of the season now, one that has sidelined him on more then one occasion. When he is not on the ice the team suffers, so the idea that he would go out of his way to jeopardize the Wings chances of winning baffles me to no end. I understand that playing for Sweden is an honor for him but at what point does that “honor” supercede the obligation that he has agreed to with the Detroit Red Wings?
Honor to Represent Your County
It only comes around every four years (well every 18 to 30 months really if you include the Summer games) and it dominates the thought process of the world’s media when it does. I get it. The Olympics are huge. The Olympics are wonderful. The perfect example of how we as a global society can still come together and compete in a civilized manor. A way to peacefully show off who is the best of the best. A game of one upsmanship on a country-to-country basis. Showing everyone that it actually does matter where you come from.
Or does it?
This weekend in the Men’s 1000m Short Track Speed Skating event, Victor Ahn of Russia took home the Gold medal and his fellow Russian Vladimir Grigorev took home the silver (Sjinkie Knegt of the Netherlands finished with the Bronze for completion purposes). The is all fine and dandy and wonderful for Russia as they are the home country this time around and every victory has an even greater meaning for them this year. The funny thing about this is the fact that neither Ahn nor Grigorev are from Russia. In fact both of them have never played for Russia in the Olympic games because (especially in the case for Ahn), neither have been Russian citizens until recently.
Ahn, a former South Korean medalist failed to qualify for his home country in the World’s back in 2011 so in an attempt to make the games in Sochi, revoked his citizenship and changed his name from Ahn Hyun-soo to the more Russian centric Victor Ahn in order for him to qualify for the Russian team. A nice story in and of itself but not exactly one that screams Home Town Hero.
Vladimir Grigorev competed in the 2002 and 2006 Olympic games for the Ukrainian team, before leaving his home county and joining with the Russian National Team in 2010 due to the lack of facilities in the Ukraine. Again, not a terrible story in and of itself but still more of a free agent move on the part of Russia than anything. If you can’t find the pieces to fit the puzzle at home, you might as well look elsewhere to bring home the gold.
Now I understand if I come off a bit condescending, it was done on purpose and partly in jest of the situation. Countries want to win (sometimes at any cost) and as long as you are not technically cheating there is nothing wrong with that. My point is that if countries are going out of their way to win at any cost, even going outside of their own countries borders to win, what makes the Olympics any different then the sports we watch in our own professional leagues on a daily basis?
If Russia is signing free agents from South Korea and the Ukraine, what would stop other countries from doing the same? What if the United States all of a sudden decided they wanted to dominate Soccer and instead of trying to find the best American players they all of a sudden had four players from Spain and three from Brazil because they just so happened to not be able to “find” or “make” their own countries squad? It is something that though small in this instance, could easily become a problem that would make the Olympics nothing more then another professional sport machine. Right now in regards to the Olympics the only obligation or contract you have to your home country is that you let them give you a shot based on nothing more then your nationality. Or I suppose in Russia’s case, give anyone a shot that happens to be good in a sport that you need help in.
What’s The Difference?
Which leads me back to the original point I was trying to make. If Henrik Zetterberg signed this contract with the Red Wings but is playing for the Swedish National Team out of his obligation to his home country, where is the line drawn in regards to his obligation to his team? Why does his home country’s team trump his contract with the team he has not only signed with but has given him the opportunity to have the life that he is living?
It seems to be the question that very few people are asking (or are even concerned with) but for me, it is the only one that I am interested in.
It’s true; Henrik Zetterberg may have gotten injured in his first game back with the Red Wings after the winter break. This is something many people have said to me recently. It’s a shame he won’t be healthy enough next week to test that theory.