Sunday. 14.04.2024

Belarus was on Monday removed as co-host of this year's ice hockey world championships by the ruling body IIHF after big pressure from politicians and sponsors.

"Due to safety and security issues that are beyond the IIHF's control, the IIHF Council confirmed today that the decision to move the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship from Minsk, Belarus is unavoidable," the IIHF said in a statement.

"The decision was reached by Council following the conclusion of an extensive due diligence process."

The Belarus capital of Minsk was originally to host the May 21-June 6 tournament along with Latvia's Riga but the IIHF said it will now determine who will host the tournament.

But the IIHF executive committee reached the decision during a video conference in connection with last year's disputed re-election of the nation's President Alexander Lukashenko and a harsh crackdown on ensuing protests.

The crackdown led to sanctions from the European Union and United States, and over the past weeks to growing calls to drop Minsk as host of the worlds, and Monday's decision by the IIHF which said it talked with all stakeholders.

"It is a very regrettable thing to have to remove the Minsk/Riga co-hosting bid," said IIHF president Rene Fasel who met last week with Lukashenko.

"During this process, we had tried to promote that the World Championship could be used as a tool for reconciliation to help calm the socio-political issues happening in the Belarus and find a positive way forward.

Political promotion

"And while the Council feels that the World Championship should not be used for political promotion by any side, it has acknowledged that hosting this event in Minsk would not be appropriate when there are bigger issues to deal with and the safety and security of teams, spectators, and officials to prioritize."

The IIHF was under big pressure by the weekend when main tournament sponsors Skoda and several other partners said they would withdraw their sponsorships if Belarus remained co-cost.

And Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins told Monday's edition of the Diena daily he could not foresee his country hosting the tournament together with Belarus.

The IIHF said it must now decide on the hosting situation. Denmark and Slovakia have been mentioned and Latvia could also possibly host the event on its own.

"With Minsk/Riga 2021 being a joint bid, the IIHF Council must consider the status of Latvia as a co-host, and will also evaluate the possibility of moving to a single-venue format to facilitate COVID-19 safety regulations and team travel," the IIHF said.

It is the second blow for the IIHF around its showcase event, after the 2020 edition in Switzerland had to be cancelled outright due to the coronavirus.

Belarus removed as co-host of ice hockey world championship