U.S. basketball authorities said an American basketball star detained in Moscow on drug trafficking charges is two-time Olympic champion Brittney Griner.
The arrest came as tensions between Moscow and the West have soared following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Russia’s Federal Customs Service said in a statement Saturday that the person had won two Olympic gold medals with the United States without disclosing the player’s name. It added that an inspection of the hand luggage carried by a U.S. citizen who arrived on a flight from New York in February “confirmed the presence of ‘vapes’ (and) a liquid with a specific smell.”
He said an expert determined the liquid was narcotic cannabis oil. Customs said the detained woman faces a potential prison sentence of five to 10 years.
U.S. basketball authorities made it clear that the woman was the star Griner. The 31-year-old is a WNBA champion with the Phoenix Mercury and a national champion at Baylor. She is a seven-time All-Star.
The news comes as the State Department issued a “do not travel” advisory for Russia on Saturday due to its invasion of Ukraine and urged all U.S. citizens to leave immediately, citing factors such as “the potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials.”” and “the embassy’s limited ability to assist” Americans in Russia.
USA Basketball, the sport’s governing body in the U.S., said on Twitter that it was “aware of and closely monitoring the legal situation facing Brittney Griner in Russia.”
It added: “Brittney has always conducted herself with the utmost professionalism during her long tenure with USA Basketball and her safety and well-being are our primary concerns.”
The team released a statement echoing USA Basketball’s language and adding, “We love and support Brittney, and at this time, our primary concern is her safety, her physical and mental health, and her safe return home.”
At 6‑foot‑9 (2.06 meters), she is the only woman in American college history to score 2,000 points and block 500 shots.
Many WNBA athletes spend the U.S. offseason playing in European leagues, including the Russian and Ukrainian leagues.