(ATR) International Ice Hockey Federation president René Fasel holds discussions in Minsk with Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko on the issues surrounding the country’s planned co-hosting of the 2021 world championship.
Fasel and Lukashenko at the 2014 IIHF World Championship opening in Minsk. (ATR)
Fasel leads the IIHF delegation, which also includes IIHF Council member Sergej Gontcharov and IIHF General Secretary Horst Lichtner. The IIHF says that in addition to Lukashenko, they also met on January 11 with Roman Golovchenko, the Belarus Prime Minister and chair of the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Organizing Committee, and with Sergei Kovalchuk, the Minister of Sports.
The federation said it wants to make sure of “the organization of the event and safety of players, fans and officials visiting the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship”.
Calls to strip Belarus of hosting the event along with Latvia have grown louder due to human rights abuses against athletes and political discrimination by the Lukashenko government. Widespread protests across Belarus began in August after Lukashenko was re-elected president in what is considered a rigged vote.
Widespread protests began in Belarus after Lukashenko claimed to have won re-election in August 2020. (Wikipedia)
Lukashenko, who is also the president of the Belarus NOC, is one of three senior NOC officials sanctioned and banned from attending the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games by the International Olympic Committee due to the abuses against athletes who have spoken out against the regime.
“The circumstances in Belarus have been different since last summer. We are here to address the situation and to find constructive solutions,” Fasel said in a statement.
“The process has started this morning and will be continued with more meetings in Minsk and with discussions within the IIHF Council.”
For his part, Lukashenko said there is no doubt that Belarus would successfully handle the event if given the opportunity.
“If the International Ice Hockey Federation succeeds in fending off unfair pressure, then we will host the championship. If Latvia refuses to co-host, then Belarus will hold the IIHF World Championship on its own and it will be the best world championship in history. I think you know this for sure. If the International Ice Hockey Federation cannot cope with the pressure of some political circles from individual countries, there will be no World Championship in Belarus. Everything depends on you today,” Lukashenko said, according to the Belarusian government website.
The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF), an athletes rights group, said it was "in disbelief" at the "cordiality and warmth with which Mr. Fasel talked to Mr. Lukashenko", saying it "gave the impression that the meeting was not taking place in the country where more than 30,000 people have been imprisoned during the past four months and where about 170 political prisoners are still behind bars".
In a statement, the BSSF called on the IIHF to strip Belarus of co-hosting the world championships.
The IIHF Council is expected to decide if Belarus will remain a co-host when it meets on January 25-26. Fasel has said that the federation has been talking with “other potential organizers” in case Belarus is stripped of co-hosting the event.
The world championship is scheduled for May 21- June 6.
Written by Gerard Farek
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