IIHF president responds to growing criticism after meeting with Lukashenka

The head of the International Ice Hockey Federation, René Fasel, has commented on his meeting with Lukashenka and responded to the criticism of European politicians and the sports community.

“I wanted to use the special relationship with Lukashenka to do something good. So that the World Cup would lead to a certain kind of reconciliation between the government and the opposition. But something didn’t work out, and I’m not happy about that either,” René Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, said in an interview with Swiss radio and television about his visit to Belarus.

Asked if hugging Lukashenka was a mistake, Fasel noted that “one picture says more than a thousand words.”

“The purpose of the trip was an important conversation with Lukashenka about the World Cup in Minsk. I’ve had a good relationship with Lukashenka for 20 years: we played hockey together, had many contacts, including 2014. IIHF wanted to use the opportunity to talk to Lukashenka sincerely. It’s a pity if it is interpreted as if I agree with the events and repression in Belarus.”

Fasel stated that the cancellation of the World Championships will not change the situation in Belarus. He believes that the competition would help to reconcile the authorities and the opposition.

“Imagine that we are now cancelling the World Cup in Belarus. Would it somehow change the situation in the country? Definitely not. Lukashenka himself said he wants to change the Constitution, that he’s ready to hold new elections. And we are discussing with him and trying to do something good”.

The difficult situation forced the head of IIHF René Fasel to visit the Belarusian capital – many took it as a full support of Lukashenka. Forty-five thousand people signed a petition in favor of moving the hockey world championship from Minsk. The fate of the Belarusian part of the championship must be decided by the end of January. A different venue has not yet been determined. Prague and Bratislava are the most likely options. The tournament was to be held from May 21 to June 6 in Riga and Minsk. However, Latvia refuses to host the competition along with Belarus. Kalervo Kummola, vice-president of the IIHF, also opposes it.