GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Slava Voynov is at the Olympics despite his conviction for domestic abuse. In a way, he is at the Olympics because of it.
The defenseman remains indefinitely suspended from the National Hockey League over a 2014 incident that got him sentenced to 90 days in jail on a misdemeanor charge of corporal injury to a spouse.
Were he still in the league, he’d have to watch on TV as the Olympics hosts its first tournament without NHL players since 1994. Since he is no longer an NHL player, he is eligible and his experience as a two-time Stanley Cup winner with the Los Angeles Kings makes him crucial to the roster of “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”
“I know that he’s a good player and obviously he deserves to be here,” teammate Mikhail Grigorenko said after practice Tuesday. “He’s one of our leaders on defense, so I’m not surprised he’s here. The around-hockey stuff, there’s people that decide that.”
Voynov’s conviction for assaulting his wife, Marta Varlamova, after a Halloween party didn’t stop him getting an invite to the PyeongChang Games from the International Olympic Committee, which set strict criteria to bar Russians linked to a state-backed doping program. However, it didn’t rule out those with criminal convictions for other matters.
“We have been reassured by the Russian National Olympic Committee (suspended) that ‘no court or other official decision has been ever rendered which would prevent Mr. Voynov from competing in international competitions and enjoying his athlete’s rights on an equal footing with other athletes,'” the IOC said in a statement to The Associated Press. “They have stressed that, ‘The court decision taken in the United States of America with regard to Mr. Voynov has been completely executed.'”
Authorities in Los Angeles said Voynov choked and hit his wife and pushed her into a TV in their Redondo Beach bedroom after an argument that began at a party attended by other Kings players. His wife required eight stitches to close up a cut over her eye. Voynov pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor charge, avoiding trial on a felony count.
The NHL did not allow Voynov to play for Russia at the World Cup of Hockey in September 2016 because he was suspended. It was unclear whether Voynov would have been legally able to enter Canada based on the terms of his conviction in the United States.
The International Ice Hockey Federation said it doesn’t have the power to exclude Voynov from international competitions.
“The IIHF does not have rules similar to the NHL that would provide it or the president the power to render Voynov ineligible for non-hockey related violations that did not occur in IIHF competitions,” spokesman Adam Steiss told the AP. “We would have respected the NHL’s suspension if he was currently playing in the NHL.”
Since leaving the United States, Voynov has played in the Kontinental Hockey League for SKA St. Petersburg, which receives substantial funding from Russian state gas company Gazprom. He rarely speaks in public and did not speak with media in South Korea this week despite repeated requests to team officials.
The Olympic Athletes from Russia opened the tournament Wednesday against Slovakia, with Voynov expected to play a key role at his second Olympics, and his teammates have expressed support for him.
Former Vancouver Canucks forward Sergei Shirokov said at practice: “Slava Voynov is a good defenseman, really good player, and it’s good.”