Staķis published a letter from Fasel on Twitter in which the sport administrator expresses "big surprise" and insists the IIHF is an "apolitical sports organization". Furthermore the white-red-white flag of opponents to the regime of brutal dictator Alexander Luksahenko "is not reflecting the state of Belarus" Fasel writes.
The President of the IIHF has requested to replace (the white-red-and-white) ⬜🟥⬜ Belorussian freedom flags with the ones of the regime - or to remove flags of IIHF. We have to pick sides - a people striving for freedom or a dictator. We will proceed with removing IIHF flags. pic.twitter.com/djTdscy588— Mārtiņš Staķis (@MStakis) May 25, 2021
In response, Staķis said he would remove the IIHF's flags rather than re-hoist the standard approved by the Lukashenko regime.
Rīga and Minsk were originally due to co-host the current World Championship tournament, but as previously reported by LSM, after lengthy dithering by Fasel while Lukashenko's crackdown on dissent became ever bloodier, in February the decision was made to hold the tournament in Latvia only.
The IIHF Council cited "the ongoing challenges placed by COVID-19 together with various technical reasons for its decision to keep the tournament in one city." It did not directly mention the ongoing crackdown as a contributing factor.
Fasel has in the past been the subject of criticism for his cosy relationship with Lukashenko, most notoriously fawning over and hugging him in January this year.
Soll die Eishockey-WM in diesem Jahr wirklich in #Belarus stattfinden? René Fasel, der Präsident der IIHF, ist heute zu Gast in Minsk. Bekanntermaßen wenig Berührungsängste zwischen dem Schweizer Funktionär und Lukaschenko. Quelle: Пул Первого pic.twitter.com/s3DjC7mdCs— Simone Brunner (@fraeuleinfroehl) January 11, 2021
On the IIHF website, the organization said it "does not agree with the actions taken yesterday by the Mayor of Riga and the Latvian Foreign Minister to use the flag of a participating country in the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship for a political message.
"The actions of the Belarus government are separate from the players who are competing under the Belarus flag at this tournament. The players have been welcomed to Latvia as guests and should not have to see their flag removed without their consent from the public display of the 16 participating countries. This is in direct contradiction to the host country slogan 'Passion. No Borders.'
"Therefore, the IIHF has asked the Mayor of Riga to urgently take down the IIHF flag from the same area, as well as the World Championship flag which bears the IIHF name. In accordance with the IIHF Statutes, we are an apolitical sports organization, and are demanding that the IIHF is removed from any association with the political statements the Mayor and Foreign Minister have made by changing the flag of our Member.
"The IIHF will retain the Belarus flag in all World Championship venues for the duration of the tournament, and hopes that the mayor’s office of Riga will reconsider its decision to remove the Belarus flag from the group of participating nations being displayed in Riga," the organization said.