Latvia intends to seek from the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to deprive Belarus of the right to host matches of the Ice Hockey World Championship, which the two countries are to host in 2021. This was stated by the Prime Minister of the country Krisjanis Karins following the results of an emergency meeting of the government.
“We call on the IIHF to find another country instead of Belarus. If the federation refuses, and the situation in Belarus does not change, the government may consider the issue that Latvia will not participate in the championship in 2021, ”LETA agency quotes Karins.
The position of the head of government was supported by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia Edgars Rinkevich. He noted that the competition should be moved from Belarus if the political crisis in the country does not end, and the Ministry of Education and Science should hold negotiations with IIHF on this topic.
“The discussion will not take place either today or tomorrow. This takes some time. Our main goal is to do everything so that (if the situation continues as it is now) the championship from Belarus was transferred to another country, "Rinkevich said.
The Latvian Foreign Minister noted that, in his opinion, Belarus will be able to host the World Ice Hockey Championship if the situation there changes. However, he did not specify exactly what changes should take place. At the same time, Rinkevich stressed that the government is not the organizer of the competition, but only provides support to the hockey federations that hold the championship.
“We are constantly discussing whether politics can be mixed with sports. We hear that these things should not be confused, that there are regimes that use sport for political purposes, ”noted the Latvian Foreign Minister.
Belarus and Latvia in 2017 received the right to host the World Ice Hockey Championship together. It is planned that the matches will be held in Minsk and Riga from May 21 to June 6, 2021. The two countries will share the group stage matches and the quarterfinals, and the subsequent games will be held in the capital of Belarus. In addition to the host side, the Minsk group includes the national teams of Russia, Sweden, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Slovakia, Denmark and Great Britain. In Riga, Canada, Finland, USA, Germany, Norway, Italy, Kazakhstan and Latvia itself will compete.
Belarus has already hosted the 2014 World Cup, which was won by the Russian team. Then, the European Parliament repeatedly called for depriving the country of the right to hold the tournament, since, according to the European authority, there were political prisoners in Belarus.
The IIHF soon reacted to the statements of the Latvian government. The organization emphasized that the World Championship should be held by both countries selected for this, and at the moment work is underway with both organizing committees. Any decisions regarding the rescheduling of matches cannot be made prior to the September International Ice Hockey Federation Council meeting.
“The IIHF takes note of the concerns expressed by the Latvian government. The main goal remains to host the 2021 Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk and Riga - in accordance with the decision of the organization's council and national member associations during the 2017 annual congress. We are currently awaiting further communications from the Latvian government. We do not have any decision timeline for the 2021 World Cup. We will continue to work with the organizing committees of Minsk and Riga until 2021 and will remain in close contact with interested parties in both countries, "- said in a statement, quoted by Sport-Express.
The Federation also recalled that the coronavirus pandemic remains another important factor that may affect the holding of the World Cup in Belarus and Latvia. The IIHF has confirmed that the safety of the players and fans remains its main principle in the conduct of competitions. The coronavirus infection has already caused the cancellation of the 2020 Ice Hockey World Championship, which was supposed to be held in Switzerland.
Earlier, IIHF President Rene Fasel, in an interview with the Latvian edition Sportacentrs, said that in the entire history of the World Championships, competitions had to be postponed and canceled only for extraordinary reasons, such as wars and epidemics. He noted that while the organization only monitors the situation in Belarus and does not take any hasty steps.
“There are no discussions about the transfer of matches to other arenas and to other countries. We were also not contacted by other countries that would like to host the World Cup. We approved Belarus and Latvia as organizers and signed agreements with them. We are working with the organizing committees of both countries to host competitions there. Although we are closely monitoring the situation in Belarus, Latvia and other countries that are going to host tournaments, there are no plans to postpone it yet. The IIHF Council recently met by telephone to discuss this and other issues, and the vast majority of members felt that it was necessary to continue to monitor what was happening and to avoid premature action, ”explained Fasel.