Taking a Risk

by Alexandra Stevenson

Is competing in Belarus, a country currently being sanctioned by the major powers, wise?
Smiles and tears graced the ice in Minsk, the capital of Belarus on Wednesday (29th), where the world junior championships are taking place.
But some are wondering why Americans are competing in a country currently embroiled in major sanctions over their appalling actions regarding human rights.
Belarus is a former Soviet Union country from which the US Ambassador was expelled in 2008 and not reinstated. The Embassy subsequently scaled down activities and is currently run by a Charge D'Affaire, who has less power.
The local situation, in which anyone can be thrown in jail and held indefinitely, late yesterday escalated to the point where the European Union recalled all 14 of its Ambassadors protesting "inexcusable human rights violations".
Today, US Pairs, Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier, Kylie Duarte & Colin Grafton and Britney Simpson & Matthew Blackmer established established 4th place with 50.81 (27.93+22.88), 8th with 48.24 (26.63+21.61) and 11th with 46.83 (25.82+22.01 -1) in a field of 20 in the SP.
The US has always sent highly promising skaters to the World Junior Championships. The event is certainly an important one, and, because there is a top age limit, could come at a critical point in a skater's development.
Certainly skaters are generally very law-abiding, motivated, polite and well chaperoned. They are hardly likely to get into trouble, although there have been a few exceptions concerning after event drinking and shop-lifting. And the sport has known some "characters" along the image of Christopher Bowman.
But, this is a country in which placing a doll with a protest message on the lawn of the President's mansion resulted this year in a two year jail sentence for a man who was on a hunger strike and visibly very weak.
Belarus is the only country in Europe which has the death penalty and several prisoners are awaiting their shooting death, including at least two whose confessions, the prosecutors admitted, were obtained through torture without any other evidence being presented.
The British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, issued a press release Wednesday, supporting the withdrawal of the EU Ambassadors. "We have consistently made clear to Belarus that we would continue to impose further sanctions as long as political prisoners remain in place and the repressions of civil society continued."
As expected, the Four Continents champions, Wenjing Sui & Cong Han of China are in the lead with 59.29 (32.60+26.69) and are expected to retain this title they have held twice before. Their teammates, Xiaoyu Yu & Yang Jin, lie second with 54.72 (31.25+23.47). In third place are Russians Ekaterina Petaikina & Maxim Kurdyukov who scored 51.18 (28.49+22.69).
Another Russian pair is fifth while Canadians, Katherine Bobak & Ian Beharry and Margaret Purdy & Michael Marinaro, are practically tied in sixth and seventh places with 49.77 & 49.51, and Hayleigh Bell & Alistair Sylvester lie 12th with 42.01.

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