As Kalervo Kummola, IIHF’s vice-president, told the Finnish newspaper Ilta-Sanomat, he has raised the issue of changing the venue after political protests in Belarus.
According to official preliminary results in the presidential election in Belarus, the current head of state, Alexander Lukashenko, won 80.08% of the vote, while opposition candidate Svetlana Tihanovska won 10.09%, but the opposition believes the election results are fake.
Almost 7,000 people have been detained and hundreds injured in Belarus as violent repression by protests by Belarusian security forces against apparent election irregularities and falsification of results. More than 250 victims are being treated in hospitals, and there are also deaths.
The 2021 World Championship is organized by Minsk together with Riga, but the games of the decisive phase of the tournament are planned in the capital of Belarus. The Minsk World Cup was also hosted in 2014, and already at that time the European Parliament called on the IIHF to prevent Belarus from hosting the championship, citing the authorities’ repression of the opposition.
“Our federation is apolitical, this issue is not much discussed. Kummola’s interview made a lot of noise, but we have never discussed the cancellation of the World Cup,” TASS quotes Faszel as saying.
The president of the IIHF points out that the world’s hockey umbrella organization is following what is happening in Belarus.
“We are seeing demonstrations after the election of President Lukashenko, but the role of the International Sports Federation is not to make any political statements at the moment,” says Fezel.
He recalls the 2014 World Cup, pointing to the large number of visitors and the high level of organization.
“We have no reason to make any political statements on this subject. As we have decided, the tournament will start on May 21. Our position is quite clear. We are ready to go to Belarus,” Fezel said, repeating the above.
However, the president of IIHF does not hide that the organization is ready to put pressure on the issue of relocating the championship venue.
“There is a risk that one of the teams will not go to Belarus due to problems that may be related to the safety of the participants. However, it is too early to talk about it now. Everyone is worried about the coronavirus, now are hard times. leagues, the start of championships in Europe and KHL – or will be able to play with spectators, “explains Fegel.
In 2022, the tournament should be hosted in Finland (Helsinki and Tampere), in 2023 – in Russia (St. Petersburg), in 2024 in the Czech Republic (Prague and Ostrava), and in 2025 – in Sweden and Denmark.
Riga and Minsk defeated the Finnish cities of Helsinki and Tampere in a fierce battle in May 2017. Group tournaments and two quarterfinals will take place in Riga and Minsk, while the semifinals and the finals will be held in the capital of Belarus.
Riga has hosted the World Championships for the only time so far in 2006, while the tournament in Minsk took place in 2014.