Due to ongoing political unrest in Belarus, the IIHF has made the decision that they will not allow 2021 World Championship games to be played in the country as planned. Minsk, Belarus was expected to play co-host to the tournament this spring along with Riga, Latvia. However, out of concern for the safety and security of all participants and fans, the IIHF will move forward with a new plan for the World Championship. The IIHF Council stated the following:
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 was reached by Council following the conclusion of an extensive due diligence process.
The IIHF has a duty of care to all Championship participants. As such, IIHF Bylaw 9 provides the IIHF Council the ability to withdraw an IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship from a hosting nation if there is reason for concern that the well-being or the safe freedom of movement of the players, officials, traveling spectators and media is in doubt.
Taking into consideration everything the IIHF Council learned during the due diligence process, the IIHF Council has determined that it is currently impossible to ensure the welfare of teams, spectators and officials while holding a World Championship in Belarus.
While the IIHF alleges that they came to this conclusion through unbiased due diligence, they did receive outside pressure to make the change as well. The Swiss Ice Hockey Federation recently put out a statement condemning human rights violations in Belarus and calling for IIHF President Rene Fasel to put his duties ahead of his friendship with Belarus president Aleksander Lukaschenko. Swiss Hockey obviously still felt some responsibility about the tournament after canceling the 2020 World Championship in Switzerland and declining the invitation to host in 2021 due to concerns over the Coronavirus pandemic. Swiss Hockey again reiterated that they are not a candidate to replace Belarus as a host of any 2021 games. There were also sponsors, including Skoda, that had threatened to back out of their support if games were held in Belarus.
The IIHF is now left to decide how they want to move forward with the tournament’s hosts. Latvia will need to be considered in any decisions, as they are still a valid co-host of the event. The IIHF could decide to use Riga as the singular host for all games if they can make the logistics work. Otherwise, there are no other cities in Latvia that could likely co-host, meaning another country will need to be considered. Nearby options include Russia and Finland, though both are major hockey countries who likely would prefer not to be co-hosts. In fact, Finland nearly won the 2021 bid over Latvia and Belarus and the IIHF could explore returning to that option. However, if Latvia wants to remain a host this year, other smaller participating countries who could serve as co-host include Baltic neighbor Denmark or perhaps a Kazakhstan or Slovakia.