World Championship moved from Minsk due to "safety and security issues"

IIHF will look at possibility of tournament, originally scheduled for Minsk and Riga, being held solely in Latvia.

By Rory Jiwani
Picture by 2019 Pool

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has announced that the 2021 Ice Hockey World Championship will not be held in the Belarusian capital Minsk.

The men's tournament was scheduled to be staged in Minsk and Latvia's capital Riga from 21 May to 6 June, but ongoing protests in Belarus since last August's contested re-election of president Alexander Lukashenko have provoked a rethink.

In a statement on Monday (18 January), the IIHF said, "Due to safety and security issues that are beyond the IIHF’s control, the IIHF Council confirmed today that the decision to move the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship from Minsk, Belarus is unavoidable."

The decision came at the end of an IIHF Council due diligence process which involved a meeting with the Belarusian government and reporting from independent experts.

The IIHF Council determined that, "it is currently impossible to ensure the welfare of teams, spectators and officials while holding a World Championship in Belarus."

IIHF President Rene Fasel said, "It is a very regrettable thing to have to remove the Minsk/Riga co-hosting bid. During this process, 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 Belarus and find a positive way forward.

"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 prioritise."

The IIHF Council will now consider whether Latvia can host the tournament on its own with regard to facilitating COVID-19 safety regulations and team travel.

Last month, the IOC brought in sanctions against Belarus's National Olympic Committee excluding its members and Lukashenko from attending the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

The IOC concluded, "It appears that the current NOC leadership has not appropriately protected the Belarusian athletes from political discrimination, contrary to the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter."

Finland won the last edition of the men's IIHF World Championship in 2019, beating Canada 3-1 in the final in Bratislava.

The 2020 edition, scheduled for Switzerland, was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic.

The 2021 IIHF Women's World Championship will be held in Halifax and Truro, Canada from 7-17 April.