IIHF moving 2021 hockey worlds from Belarus, citing safety concerns
'Impossible to ensure welfare of teams' after protests against authoritarian leader
The men's hockey world championship was pulled from Belarus on Monday following pressure from opposition groups and a threatened boycott by sponsors.
The International Ice Hockey Federation cited safety concerns and said it will seek a new country to co-host the tournament with Latvia or host it on its own. The tournament is scheduled to start May 21.
Criticism of Belarus' role as co-host grew after authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko's disputed re-election last year was followed by mass arrests at largely peaceful demonstrations.
The IIHF said its council "determined that it is currently impossible to ensure the welfare of teams, spectators and officials" in Belarus.
IIHF president Rene Fasel had tried to keep the tournament in Belarus, claiming it could build bridges between the opposition and Lukashenko. Opposition groups criticized Fasel after he and Lukashenko embraced when they met for talks last week.
Three sponsors of the tournament, Skoda, Nivea and Liqui Moly, said they would cancel their involvement if games were played in Belarus.
The IIHF said it will now consider where to host the event and said Latvia could remain a co-host or the championships could move to a single venue. Denmark, the host in 2018, and Slovakia, the host in 2019, have both offered to step in.
LIQUI MOLY announces to cancel its sponsorship of the ice hockey world championship if it will take place in Belarus:<a href="https://t.co/wrOXUwZFkd">https://t.co/wrOXUwZFkd</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/LIQUIMOLY?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#LIQUIMOLY</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/IIHFWorlds?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#IIHFWorlds</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/belarus2021?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#belarus2021</a> <a href="https://t.co/HPqoIBoWXy">pic.twitter.com/HPqoIBoWXy</a>—@liqui_moly_gmbh