The International Ice Hockey Federation has announced that Belarus capital Minsk has been removed as co-host of the Men's World Championships, citing safety and security issues.
The championship was awarded to Riga and Minsk as part of a joint bid and due to take place between 21 May and 6 June but the re-election of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has led to protests in the country with many calling for the championship to be moved out of the country.
The Belarusian government has limited freedom of speech and subsequently punished any who spoke out against the regime which has been widely condemned by the European Union resulting in sanctions on the country and Lukashenko himself being banned by the IOC from attending the Tokyo Olympics. IIHF President Rene Fasel was recently criticised when he shook hands with and hugged Lukashenko during a meeting where the Belarusian reassured that the championship could safely be hosted in the country.
The IIHF has now announced that after consulting all stake holders and the Belarusian government that “the decision to move the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship from Minsk, Belarus is unavoidable.” The IIHF said that this decision was taken due to “reason for concern that the well-being or the safe freedom of movement of the players, officials, traveling spectators and media is in doubt.” And “it is currently impossible to ensure the welfare of teams, spectators and officials while holding a World Championship in Belarus.”
The political unrest is one cause for concern but Lukashenko’s approach to Covid-19 is another as he has worried a number of nations with his relaxed view on the pandemic, reportedly saying drinking vodka and attending saunas would keep people safe throughout the pandemic. A number of sponsors recently threatened to withdraw if the tournament was not removed from Belarus so has likely played a significant role in the decision now taken by the IIHF.
Latvia has offered to host the event on its own with countries such as Slovakia and Czech Republic offering to co/host with Riga but the IIHF said “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.”
You can read the IIHF statement here.