Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, sports federations and leagues have played a major role in condemning Russia’s actions.
Russian athletes are currentlyy crossed out by most O’sOlympic sports federations, FIFA expelled Russian clubs and national teams from international competitions, and leagues around the world issued statements support and organize fundraising efforts for Ukraine.
But the Premier Hockey Federation (PHF), a women’s professional hockey league in North America that will wrap up its seventh season this weekend with the 2022 Isobel Cup final, has remained silent on the subject of the ongoing war of the Russia in Ukraine.
The chairman of the board of directors of the PHF, American John Boyton, is also chairman of Yandex, Russia’s largest technology company. The company was recently described by Wired as “The Russians Google, Uber, Spotify and Amazon together.
As Yandex has risen to prominence as a search engine, it has become a ubiquitous presence in all aspects of life in Russia. The company’s many apps are used for everything from announcing a ride to aggregating news to paying for a meal.
Boynton, a founding Yandex shareholder who lives in the Boston area, has been a non-executive director since 2000 and was named chairman of the board in 2016. He credits his Russian entrepreneurial ambitions to a trip he took to the Soviet Union . as a junior in high school. In addition to Yandex, Boynton also co-founded a Russian companys CompTek and Intranet.
And in recent years, he has become one of the most important figures in women’s professional hockey.
Her company, BTM Partners, currently owns three of the six teams in the PHF, which changed its name to the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) last year. The three teams are technically chaired by three people: John is manager of the Metropolitan Riveters, his wife Johanna oversees the Toronto Six and business partner Miles Arnone president of Boston Pride. While the league recently announced that the Toronto Six is being sold to an all-BIPOC pool that includes Angela Jamesthis sale has not yet been finalized.
In a February 1 episode of sporticast podcast, Boynton was asked about rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
“The last thing anybody wants to see is war,” Boynton said, before adding “I personally don’t think it’s going to come to that.”
But of course, it came to that.
Throughout the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Yandex allegedly played a role in suppressing factual information while promoting state-run media sources. The company – which is registered in the Netherlands, but headquartered in Moscow – has close ties to the Kremlin.
“Now you get more and more propaganda results before you get search results,” former Yandex board member Esther Dyson told RFE/RL after resigning from his post on March 7.
“First you have publicity, then propaganda, then you have news. You can’t get that information [about the war] on Yandex more.
On March 15, the European Union (EU) sanctioned the executive director and deputy general manager of Yandex Tigran Khudaverdian with an asset freeze and a travel ban. According to the EU report, Khudaverdyan attended a meeting of oligarchs in the Kremlin with Putin on February 24, 2022, to “discuss the impact of the course of action in the wake of Western sanctions.”
The EU report continues: “The fact that he was invited to this meeting shows that he is part of the inner circle of oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin and that he supports or implements actions or policies that undermine or threaten the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, as well as stability and security in Ukraine. In addition, he is one of the leading businessmen involved in economic sectors providing a substantial source of income to the government of the Russian Federation, which is responsible for the annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of the Ukraine.
Khudaverdyan resigned from his post, with Boynton issuing the following statement on behalf of Yandex: “We were shocked and surprised to learn that Tigran has been designated under EU sanctions, and we are extremely sorry to see him resign from his position. Executive Director and Deputy General Manager. the roles.”
But on the subject of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Boynton remained silent.
On Her Turf has reached out to Boynton for comment on Yandex’s role in suppressing information about the war in Ukraine, whether he plans to step down as chairman of Yandex’s board, and whether the financial losses of the company will impact a $25 million commitment to the PHF that Boynton led earlier this year.
A statement from Boynton, provided by PHF’s Senior Vice President of Communications Paul Crotzdid not answer any questions about Boynton’s role with Yandex or Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Boynton’s statement in full reads: “The $25 million announced by the PHF in January is a collective commitment by the Board of Governors and nothing has transpired to impact that commitment. Details regarding the expansion, new ownership groups and additional investors in the sale of Toronto Six will all be announced at a later date. In the meantime, our focus is on this weekend’s Isobel Cup playoffs in Tampa Bay, which will provide an exciting end to a historic 2021-22 season. »
The PHF did not respond to any of On Her Turf’s questions, beyond Boynton’s statement, including whether the league has any comments on the Russian invasion of Ukraine or Boynton’s position at Yandex.
The PHF/NWHL has long struggled with transparency and accountability, from the season-long burst of the league’s “bubble” in Lake Placid to no minimum wage or minimum salary cap. Next season will mark the first year the players – almost all of whom are working second or third jobs – will have medical cover.
While PHF’s ties to Yandex are arguably much closer given their shared chairman, it’s not the only US sports league tied to the Russian tech company. In 2019, the NHL and Yandex formed a partnership that made Yandex the broadcast venue for NHL games in Russia, with a multi-year contract extension signed in January.
But after Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine, the NHL announced Feb. 28 that the league was suspending relations with Russian business partners, including Yandex. According ESPNNHL games weren’t going to be removed from Yandex immediately, but “the plan is to remove NHL content from the site for the foreseeable future.”
Correction: This story previously listed Willie O’Ree as one of the new owners of the Toronto Six, but O’Ree actually joined the Boston Pride ownership group.
Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC