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IIHF chief Fasel: 2021 Ice Hockey World Championship must be co-hosted by Minsk and Riga

IIHF President Fasel traveled this week to Belarus, where he held a number of official meetings, including with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko
IIHF President Rene Fasel  Nikolai Petrov/BELTA/TASS
IIHF President Rene Fasel
© Nikolai Petrov/BELTA/TASS

MOSCOW, January 13. /TASS/. The top option for the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) is to provide for the organization of the 2021 Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk and Riga, IIHF President Rene Fasel said on Wednesday.

"The first option remains to have a World Championship in Minsk and Riga 2021, under the conditions outlined by the IIHF. There are no other options being considered at this time," the IIHF press service quoted Fasel as saying.

IIHF President Fasel traveled this week to Belarus, where he held a number of official meetings, including with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, discussing the organization of the 2021 Ice Hockey World Championship.

"We expect to receive soon an overview of the Belarus government action items covering the specific IIHF requirements that were presented in Minsk," the IIHF president continued. "These are key issues touching operational and socio-political points related to the World Championship and we cannot move forward if these action items are not initiated soon."

Fasel also said Belarus still had work to do in order to provide safe environment regarding the situation with COVID-19 in the country.

"It is not to the international standard we would expect for the World Championship, but we have received a pledge from the government to follow all IIHF guidelines," he said. "There is still a lot to do but they are ready to listen and we have the blueprint from a successful World Junior Championship bubble to work from."

Belarus is ranked 49th among other countries in terms of the reported positive novel coronavirus cases, which currently stand at over 215,720.

The IIHF president also said that the Belarusian government pledged to talk to the opposition in order exclude the issue of the World Championship’s organization from the sphere of politics.

"Most importantly, the Belarusian government agreed to an open and constructive dialogue with the opposition to take the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship out of the political focus and to use sports as a mean to bring people together," Fasel stated. "We acknowledge that our requests are outside sport and going into the direction of politics, but we feel the end results of our requests were necessary to ensure a safe championship."

"Personally, I do think that lot of people are underestimating the capacity of the Belarus government to move forward, modernize, and build a new constitution in the country," he said. "This will not happen overnight; we know this and have to give it time but whatever the IIHF can do to help push the agenda forward we will try."

"If we move forward with Minsk as a tournament host, we also must establish a system where we can be assured that the Belarus government is taking concrete actions towards fulfilling the pledges made to the IIHF, otherwise it will not be possible to hold a World Championship in Minsk due to the elevated safety issues," Fasel added.

The 2021 IIHF World Championship was initially scheduled to be co-hosted by Latvia and Belarus between May 7 and 23, 2021. However, the IIHF Congress on June 22, 2020 announced new dates for the 2021 World Championship in Latvia and Belarus, taking into account the ongoing global spread of the novel coronavirus.

Matches of the 2021 IIHF World Championship in the Latvian capital of Riga and the Belarusian capital of Minsk were moved to be played between May 21 and June 6, 2021.

IIHF Vice President Kalervo Kummola said last August in an interview with Finland’s daily Ilta-Sanomat that he had proposed to relocate the championship from Belarus, which was hit last year by nationwide protests.

Swiss-based newspaper Watson reported in late December that the IIHF administration made a decision to relocate matches of the 2021 IIHF World Championship from Belarus to another country.

Protests in Belarus

Nationwide demonstrations have engulfed Belarus following the August 9, 2020 presidential election. According to the Central Election Commission’s official results, incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko won by a landslide, garnering 80.10% of the vote. His closest rival in the race, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, came in second, with 10.12% of the ballot.

However, she refused to recognize the election’s outcome, and left Belarus for Lithuania. After the results of the exit polls were announced late on August 9, mass protests erupted in downtown Minsk and other Belarusian cities. During the early post-election period, the rallies snowballed into fierce clashes between the protesters and police.