Despite its intentions, the campaign has highlighted the dilemma facing Russian professional athletes living in the United States who support Putin. Several Russian hockey players, including those who have not publicly signed on to Ovechkin’s initiative, declined interview requests. Malkin waited five days after pledging his support on social media to answer questions about the campaign.
…One U.S.-based hockey agent who represents Russian players in North America said of Ovechkin’s initiative: “All of my clients, everybody’s rolling their eyes, basically, saying, ‘What the [heck]?’ It’s like he’s lobbying for a job in politics.”
…A person close to Ovechkin explained that he tries to navigate a delicate tightrope, supporting one country while trying not to offend the other, and that the PutinTeam initiative has underscored the innate difficulties he faces.
“If he played in Carolina, this probably wouldn’t be as interesting to some people as it probably is, just given where he lives and works and what he does,” said the Ovechkin associate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so he could talk more freely. “To say that Alex or anybody is following the daily nuances of really high-level, very complex geopolitical issues, they’re probably not doing that, right?”
…While the Capitals organization may not be eager to discuss Ovechkin’s relationship with Putin, team officials are aware that it could upset some fans. At the same time, they accept the demands being placed on him from Moscow and recognize the franchise has at times had to work around them, especially during the offseason.
…Kremlin observers explain that many Russian celebrities can face pressures both overt and indirect to take part in a Russian political campaign. For many, an endorsement might protect their families or help secure government funding for their projects. But most agree that Ovechkin probably is above such pressures — too rich, too high profile.