Belarusian capital Minsk has been stripped of co-hosting rights for the 2021 men’s IIHF World Championship, following multiple calls from human rights activists to relocate the tournament amid public protests.
On Monday, the International Ice hockey Federation (IIHF) Council voted to move all the games scheduled to take place in Minsk.
Belarus was set to host the major ice hockey tournament in May alongside Latvia, but numerous calls from international critics who said that Belarusian authorities were cracking down on protests against longtime President Alexander Lukashenko appear to have forced the IIHF to reconsider its decision regarding the hosting rights.
Major sponsors including Nivea and Skoda had already threatened they would withdraw if the competition went ahead in Minsk.
Confirming the decision, the IIHF made no mention of Lukashenko directly but cited “political unreast” and “Covid-19” as the reasons behind the step.
“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,” a statement on the organization’s website read.
“The IIHF has a duty of care to all Championship participants. As such, IIHF Bylaw 9 provides the IIHF Council the ability to withdraw an IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship from a hosting nation if there is reason for concern that the well-being or the safe freedom of movement of the players, officials, traveling spectators and media is in doubt.”
It added: “The final stage of the IIHF Council due diligence process was meeting with the Belarusian government last week and the commissioning of a further independent expert report.
“Taking into consideration everything the IIHF Council learned during the due diligence process, the IIHF Council has determined that it is currently impossible to ensure the welfare of teams, spectators and officials while holding a World Championship in Belarus.”
IIHF President Rene Fasel visited Minsk last week and was severely criticized after Belarusian television showed he was greeted with a hug by Lukashenko.
Belarus has been engulfed by large-scale protests since the presidential election in August, which saw Lukashenko claim a sixth term with 80 percent of the vote.
Some of the country’s top athletes who sided with the demonstrators have reportedly faced the consequences of a police crackdown.