World men’s ice hockey championship moved out of Belarus

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Belarus will no longer co-host the world men’s ice hockey championship in May and June “due to safety and security issues” beyond the IIHF’s control, the federation announced Monday.

“We had tried to promote that the world championship could be used as a tool for reconciliation to help calm the socio-political issues happening in the Belarus and find a positive way forward,” IIHF President René Fasel said in a press release. “And while the Council feels that the world championship should not be used for political promotion by any side, it has acknowledged that hosting this event in Minsk would not be appropriate when there are bigger issues to deal with and the safety and security of teams, spectators, and officials to prioritize.”

The decision came after talks on whether it was viable for Belarus to co-host worlds with Latvia “in the face of the growing safety and security concerns related to both the rising political unrest and COVID-19,” according to the federation.

An IIHF council will determine if Latvia can remain as a co-host. It’s possible the tournament will be moved to a single venue.

The Danish city of Herning, which hosted part of the 2018 championship, is a possible replacement for Minsk, Fasel said before the decision to move from Belarus, and there have been initial talks with 2019 host nation Slovakia. Latvia could also host on its own, he added.

German motor oil manufacturer Liqui Moly said Sunday it would cancel its sponsorship deal if the championship remains in Belarus, a day after carmaker Skoda vowed to do the same after 28 years as a sponsor of the event.

The Belarusian capital Minsk and Latvian capital Riga were picked in 2017 as co-hosts for the May 21-June 6 championship. Criticism of Belarus’ involvement has grown since a disputed presidential election last year was followed by mass arrests at largely peaceful demonstrations.

Fasel met with longtime Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk last Monday, saying he wanted to use the tournament to build bridges between Lukashenko and the opposition. However, opposition groups criticized Fasel after he was pictured embracing Lukashenko. Fasel said the gesture didn’t mean the IIHF was taking sides in Belarusian politics.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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