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Hamblin headed home from Siberia, but fined for leaving basketball team early


After days of trying to get out of Siberia, Canadian basketball player Ruth Hamblin landed in North America to learn she'd been fined by her team for leaving early.

The 25-year-old plays for WBC Dynamo Novosibirsk, and while the Russian women's professional league had shut down amid the sweeping fear of the COVID-19 pandemic, her team was still holding mandatory practices.

But Hamblin knew it was time to leave when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians abroad to come home while they still could.

"When he says, 'As a Canadian outside Canada, this is your time to come home,' those words hit me like a rock in my stomach," said Hamblin. "I thought, 'I need to come home, this isn't the time to play games, I just need to come home and be there and ride this out there.'"

Hamblin finally messaged the club's general manager, and explained that she had to leave for her emotional and physical well-being.

"I apologized and said 'This is bigger than basketball, and I need to get home,' and they were so kind and released me," Hamblin said from Moscow, after a four-hour flight from Novosibirsk.

But she then landed in Los Angeles to a message that she was being fined. 

"A never-ending saga and just can't do anything right," Hamblin said.

Hamblin and Canadian teammates Jamie Scott and Miah-Marie Langlois are all starters for Dynamo Novosibirsk, and members of Canada's national women's team. Langlois returned home from Russia on Wednesday as well, while Scott planned to stick it out in Siberia.

Hamblin, a six-foot-six centre and two-time Pac-12 defensive player of the year for Oregon State, had feared leaving Siberia because it meant breaking her contract, and losing any pay she was owed.

"There's no empathy," Hamblin said earlier in the week. "Especially being away from family and having this global epidemic and it's unprecedented. And then to be in an environment that doesn't respect how you feel and what you need emotionally is really tough.

"The wording in our contract is that it's until the last official game or May 1, but not earlier. So they're using that to hope that will break our contract, and then they don't have to pay us out." 

Home for Hamblin is Houston, a small town in British Columbia's interior sandwiched between Smithers and Burns Lake. She had one last flight from L.A. to Vancouver and was thankful to be leaving the U.S. amid the tightening border restrictions.

There are dozens of basketball players plying their trade outside Canada, and there are also countless athletes in numerous sports who've been in the same boats.

Emily Potter of Winnipeg, who plays for KP Brno in the Czech Republic, tweeted on Wednesday: "Hello @JustinTrudeau please help me get home from the Czech Republic, my flight just got cancelled. Can you send a jet? I’ll pay you back... later."


This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2020.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press