Hockey world championships pulled from Belarus after backlash over human rights

24/01/2021
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Paris-Minsk-Zurich — Following pressure from Belarusian civil society, including athletes, journalists and activists, as well as sponsors and human rights organisations like FIDH and Viasna – its member in Belarus – denouncing state repression of the opposition, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHR) decided to withdraw the upcoming Ice Hockey World Championships from Minsk.

The annual tournament is scheduled to be held in May and June 2021. On 18 January, the IIHF Council stated that “it is currently impossible to ensure the welfare of teams, spectators and officials while holding a World Championship in Belarus.”

The IIHR said in a statement that it consulted with “independent experts and all stakeholders” on the viability of holding the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Belarus, considering “growing safety and security concerns related to both the rising political unrest and covid-19.”

On 15 January, Nivea Men threatened to withdraw its sponsorship should the World Cup be held in Minsk. The following day, Czech automobile manufacturer Skoda, the main sponsor, announced that it would “withdraw from sponsoring the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship if Belarus is confirmed to be co-hosting the event,” out of respect for all human rights. German firm Liqui Moly soon followed suit, as did Swiss watchmaker Tissot, which said, “human rights are fundamental values which Tissot represents.”

On 12 January, after René Fasel, the president of the IIHF, and Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko met in Minsk, FIDH and Viasna asked the IIHF to respect human dignity and its own code of conduct by depriving Belarus of its co-host rights. FIDH and Viasna held that if the championship were to proceed as planned in Belarus, it would be not only unethical but also dangerous to fans, athletes, and journalists. The two organisations had sent an open letter to the IIHF calling for the championship to be relocated and for a new co-organiser to be selected.

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