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Sabres’ Russian defenseman Lyubushkin to skip Pride Night warm-up

Russian defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin will not take part in the Buffalo Sabres’ pre-game warm-up during the team’s Pride Night later on Monday due to safety concerns after his birth country’s anti-gay laws were amended last December, the NHL team said.

NHL Pride Night events have been under an unwelcome spotlight in recent months as a handful of players, and even some teams, have objected to participating for reasons that include religious beliefs and the Russian law.

Lyubushkin is expected to play against the visiting Montreal Canadiens but will not join team mates who wear special Pride-themed jerseys and use sticks with rainbow-colored tape that will be auctioned off to benefit local Pride organizations.

“Our team feels strongly that one way to garner support is through wearing Pride jerseys and using Pride tape in warm-ups,” the Sabres said in a statement that did not mention Lyubushkin.

“That said, we are aware of general threats to certain players, and understand their decision to forego risk.”

Lyubushkin, who signed with the Sabres as a free agent last July, is the only Russian-born player on the NHL team’s roster and has 14 points in 58 games this season.

Last December Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law expanding Russia’s restrictions on the promotion of what it calls “LGBT propaganda”, effectively outlawing any public expression of LGBT behaviour or lifestyle in Russia.

Under the new law, which widens Russia’s interpretation of what qualifies as “LGBT propaganda”, any action or the spreading of any information that is considered an attempt to promote homosexuality in public, online, or in films, books or advertising, could incur a heavy fine.

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