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Lukashenko: Belarus ready to host Hockey World Championship if IIHF withstands pressure

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

MINSK, January 11. /TASS/. Belarus is ready to host the IIHF (the International Ice Hockey Federation) World Championship at any time if the global ice hockey federation is able to withstand an unjust pressure, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Monday.

"Answering the main question about my attitude to all the recent developments around the IIHF World Championship in Belarus, I will tell you frankly: I will be OK with any development of the situation," Lukashenko said during his meeting with IIHF President Rene Fasel in the Belarusian capital of Minsk.

"If the International Ice Hockey Federation succeeds in fending off unfair pressure, then we will host the championship," Belarusian BelTA news agency quoted Lukashenko as saying. "If Latvia refuses to co-host, then Belarus will hold the IIHF World Championship on its own and it will be the best world championship in history."

However, Lukashenko also said that in case the International Ice Hockey Federation "cannot cope with the pressure of some political circles from individual countries, there will be no World Championship in Belarus."

"Everything depends on you today," Lukashenko said addressing Fasel. "I agree with your recent statements: sport should unite nations, not divide them, and sports and politics should not mix, as much as it is possible. We will act in this vein."

IIHF President Fasel admitted that the global hockey federation was under a pressure today, however, it was under a pressure as well in 2014, when the Belarusian capital of Minsk hosted the IIHF World Championship.

"We are very happy to be here today and to have an opportunity to discuss the situation," Fasel said. "The situation is a little bit different from the one we had in 2014. You remember that in 2014 there was pressure as well but we came here and held a great championship together."

"The situation has changed a bit. When Belarus has faced problems, we have come under a lot of pressure," he continued.

"We have a clear position, though: as you said, we do not want to mix sport and politics. Sport should unite nations not divide them," Fasel added.

President Lukashenko also assured Fasel that the country would provide all preventive and safety measures against the novel coronavirus as well as security measures.

"I want to assure you as the IIHF president and as a friend of Belarus that there will be no issues on any front in Belarus: neither coronavirus, nor in terms of political security or physical security of people who live here and people who will come as guests," Lukashenko said.

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.

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.

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.

However, Viesturs Koziols, the general secretary of the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation, told TASS in early August that the organization of the 2021 IIHF World Championship by Latvia alone would be impossible without the participation of partners from Belarus.

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.