On Tuesday, Riga has been confirmed as the sole host for the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship. Two weeks ago, the International Ice Hockey Federation deprived Minsk of the right to co-host the high-profile sports event.
The IIHF office examined hosting offers from Bratislava (Slovakia) and Herning (Denmark), but the Council opted for keeping the tournament in one and the same country amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“The IIHF Council cited the ongoing challenges placed by COVID-19 together with various technical reasons for its decision to keep the tournament in one city. With continued uncertainty surrounding international travel restrictions, the Council believes that keeping all teams in Riga throughout the tournament and avoiding travel between two host countries is the safest and most cost-effective way to operate the event,” the statement reads.
The championship was expected to take place in Minsk and Riga which had won the right to host the corresponding event in the year of 2021. However, on the back of the the rigged elections and the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters in 2020, the world community became outspokenly critical of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime.
In November, Latvia banned Belarusian Ice Hockey Association Head Dzmitry Baskau and boxer Dzmitry Shakuta from entering its territory ‘for an unspecified period’ after a number of sportspeople and Internet users familiar with the situation identified Baskau and Shakuta (who belong to Lukashenka’s coterie) in photos and videos of the masked persons who brutally attacked protester Raman Bandarenka. On November 12, the Minsker slipped into a coma and died of severe head injuries.
In late December, a number of Western media reported that the 2021 World Ice Hockey Championship would definitely not be held in Belarus because of the political situation. Later, Prime Minister of Finland Sanna Marin, vice-president of the IIHF Kalervo Kummola, head of the Danish Hockey Union Ulrik Larsen, as well as members of the U.S. Congress and the German Bundestag called for a boycott or postponement of the World Cup. A number of companies, including Nivea and Škoda, refused to participate in financing the World Cup if it took place in Belarus.
On January 18, the Federation announced its decision to move the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship from the Belarusian capital city, stressing that such step was ‘unavoidable’ due ‘to safety and security issues’.