Great Britain’s Senior Men’s team are waiting to hear where they will play their games in the World Championship this year after IIHF announced Minsk would not be hosts anymore.
The Belarus capital, along with Riga, in Latvia, were due to host the event, scheduled to take place in May, but ongoing political uncertainty has left the sport’s governing body to act now.
“It is a very regrettable thing to have to remove the Minsk/Riga co-hosting bid,” said IIHF president René Fasel said in a statement.
“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 the Belarus and find a positive way forward.
“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.”
Unrest in Belarus has been ongoing, with tens of thousands of people arrested, beaten or forced to flee the country after rigged elections in August.
Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko is very much a pariah in the international community and hosting the competition would have been a propaganda coup.
Fasel was still keen to host the competition in Minsk as recently as last week, when he rejected calls to move the tournament from Minsk, but it’s believed the change of heart could be a result of sponsors threatening to pull out.
Car manufacturer Skoda posted on Twitter at the weekend that they were threatening to pull their backing because of the current situation in the country.
We've been a proud partner to the @IIHFHockey World Championship for 28 years. But we also respect & promote all human rights. Therefore, #SKODA will withdraw from sponsoring the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship if #Belarus is confirmed to be co-hosting the event. pic.twitter.com/fC3ZMbY2cG
“We’ve been a proud partner to the IIHF world championship for 28 years. But we also respect and promote all human rights,” they posted.
“Therefore, Skoda will withdraw from sponsoring the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship if Belarus is confirmed to be co-hosting the event.”
GB were due to be based in Minsk in Group A, with matches against Belarus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland.
At this time, it’s unclear whether Riga will host the entire competition or move the Group A teams to different country altogether.