The American women’s basketball star was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia on Thursday
Brittney Griner is a great basketball player, but her status doesn’t mean she should be treated any differently under Russian law, according to former Russia women’s team coach Boris Sokolovsky.
Griner was jailed for nine years by Khimki City Court just outside Moscow on Thursday, after she was caught with banned hashish oil vape cartridges in her luggage at Sheremetyevo airport on February 17.
Griner was traveling to Russia to play for UMMC Yekaterinburg during the WNBA offseason in her homeland – something she has done on a string of lucrative deals since 2015.
There was an outcry in the United States over his case, with Griner officially classified as “wrongfully detained” even though she pleaded guilty.
Russian officials have refuted allegations of political interference in Griner’s trial, noting that she broke the law and should not be considered an exception simply because she is a foreigner.
Sokolovsky, a former veteran coach of the Russian women’s national basketball team, also believes Griner’s status does not give her special privileges.
“The basketball community is tight and Brittney is a top player, she’s a celebrity, so the case has caused such a stir in the United States and here,” said Sokolovsky, 68, who led Russia to fourth place at the 2012 Olympics.
“But we have to trust our judicial system, which decided that his act fell under Russian law.
“The greatness of an athlete must not overshadow the law.
“As a colleague, I am sincerely sorry that she found herself in such a situation, but it is wrong to say that our state is not right just because she is a great basketball player,” Sokolovsky added in TASS comments.
Part of Griner’s defense was that he was prescribed the use of cannabis for medical purposes in the United States, to help cope with injuries.
However, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was among those who noted that Russian law differs from that of many US states that take a different stance on drugs, and that Griner was on Russian territory.
Sokolovsky said Russia doesn’t have to follow the lead of the United States in terms of legalizing narcotics.
“Yes, many drugs are legal in the United States, but that doesn’t mean we have to follow their rules,” he said.
“In addition to the fact that foreign athletes bring a new level of skill to our championship, many vices also come with them.
Sokolovsky describes himself as “a conservative person from the USSR” but said there are other ways people deal with stress.
“Maybe [cannabis] a stress reliever for Brittney, but we have legal stress relievers, like alcohol, for example,” he noted.
US basketball bosses react to Griner’s Russian prison sentence
Whether or not Griner will serve the full length of his sentence remains to be seen, with talks ongoing between Moscow and Washington over a potential prisoner swap involving the basketball star.
Griner is a two-time Olympic champion with the United States and an eight-time WNBA star with the Phoenix Mercury.