Finnish hockey legend Esa Tikkanen has a clear vision of the fate of next spring's World Hockey Championships, despite the ongoing demonstrations in Belarus.

- The current situation should not affect the World Cup in any way. The Games have been given to Minsk, and politics should not affect sports in any way, Tikkanen uploads.

- Lukashenko is a hockey madman, like Putin or Niinistök. I can't say it anymore. He takes care of his country, even though he is a so-called dictator, the five-time Stanley Cup winner states.

Esa Tikkanen has played for the Finnish team in the Minsk Christmas tournament against President Lukashenko. Photo from the SM League All Star event in autumn 2019.

Photo: Jussi Nukari / Lehtikuva

The crisis in Belarus began with the presidential election on Sunday, August 9, which was won by Alexander Lukashenko, the “last dictator of Europe,” with a landslide. The opposition considers the election fraudulent.

Since the elections, there have been widespread anti-presidential protests in Belarus, which have been suppressed by violence. Last week, Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said the country no longer wants to host next spring’s World Hockey Championships together with Belarus.

However, René Fasel, President of the International Hockey Federation IIHF, has assured that Minsk will remain the host city for the World Cup.

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Pentti Matikainen, who coached Finland for the first value hockey medal at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, is more cautious than Tikka in his estimates.

- Interesting to see what happens at the World Cup. It doesn't seem good now. From the point of view of sports, everything works on top of the last one, but is it right if someone is hungry or not enough money is put into health care, Matikainen ponders.

Legendary hockey coach Pentti Matikainen, 69, has been with the Finnish team more than ten times in the Minsk amateur tournament.

Photo: Antti Hämäläinen

An amateur tournament, the Christmas Tournament, is held in Belarus every January during the local Christmas season, with Lukashenko, 55, who has led Belarus since 1994, playing himself.

- I've been in the tournament for more than ten times. It started when “Luke” invited us to play. At first there was only his gang and the Finnish gang. The tournament began to expand when Belarus last hosted (2014) the World Cup. At that time, 12 teams were involved, because they drove in the World Cup organization and hotels, Matikainen, who has been piloting the Finnish team in the tournament for years, tells Ilta-Sanomat.

Tikkanen also remembers perfectly the amateur tournament held at the 2014 World Championships in Minsk.

- Full living room and decent show on site. I've played against President Lukashenko many times. Foreigners are well taken care of there. It’s been a well-organized tournament just like the World Cup, NHL legend says.

President Alexander Lukashenko at his Christmas tournament hosted on ice.

Photo: Lassi Sarvikivi's home album

Like Tikkanen, Matikainen only has fond memories of the Christmas Tournament.

- It can be compared to the World Cup. Similar activities, very safe, and there have never been any problems. Now it seems that the action is unfortunately coming to an end. Was last year last year - it smells a bit, Matikainen estimates.

- Through the tournament, we have also exported Finnish companies to Belarus. I am also following the current situation in the sense that we will no longer have the opportunity to get there in the future.

In the Minsk Christmas tournament, the stands are full, even though it is an amateur tournament.

Photo: Lassi Sarvikivi's home album

The Finnish team ended up as Lukashenko's guest through Matikainen's contact with the Finnish hobby team.

At first, Finland played in the tournament only with the help of a group of hobbyists - Matikainen himself pulled the game around his neck - but as the level rose, a group of top players who had recently finished their careers had been assembled in Minsk.

Ilta-Sanomat reported on the tournament in 2017, when goalkeeper Juuso Riksman, Sami Helenius, Toni Mäkiaho and Jani Rita were present.

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- We have been required to participate in certain activities there. For example, we have visited orphanages and taken gifts to them, such as televisions and computers. Thrilling experiences, not just hockey. I don't know if it's also political that they've wanted to show something to the outside world, but we've done it selflessly, Matikainen says.

According to Matikainen, the Finnish team has reached the finals in a couple of years. However, Belarus has exported profits.

- Last time in the final, Belarus was kept so tight that Lukashenko did not dare to play but one substitution, Matikainen reveals.

Tikkanen announces that he will be happy to take part in the tournament in the future if it is held and if the 55-year-old winger gets his knees in shape.

- Last winter we had a very high quality gang in Minsk. Almost all were players with league backgrounds and there were a lot of players on the national team as well. There is no need to attract anyone there, Matikainen says.

Representative of the Finnish team Lassi Sarvikivi and President Aleksandr Lukashenko (left) shake hands.

Photo: Lassi Sarvikivi's home album