Despite sitting on the fence for months as a brutal crackdown was continued by the regime of Belarus dictator Alexander Lukashenko, the IIHF finally had its hand forced when a series of sponsors including Nivea, Škoda and Liqui-Moly signalled they had no interest in being associated with a bloodbath.
We've been a proud partner to the @IIHFHockey World Championship for 28 years. But we also respect & promote all human rights. Therefore, #SKODA will withdraw from sponsoring the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship if #Belarus is confirmed to be co-hosting the event. pic.twitter.com/fC3ZMbY2cG— ŠKODA AUTO NEWS (@skodaautonews) January 16, 2021
In a statement January 18 the IIHF said:
"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.
"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," the statement said.
“It is a very regrettable thing to have to remove the Minsk/Riga co-hosting bid,” said IIHF President René Fasel who just last week was pictured embracing Lukashenko. “During this process, we had tried to promote that the World Championship could be used as a tool for reconciliation to help calm the socio-political issues happening in the Belarus and find a positive way forward,” he claimed.
President of @IIHFHockey Rene Fasel is meeting Lukashenka today. They are discussing Ice Hockey Championship 2021 in Minsk. A few miles away from them, people are imprisoned in inhumane conditions as political prisoners. pic.twitter.com/lctWuuAcuh— Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya (@Tsihanouskaya) January 11, 2021
The IIHF Council said it would "consider the status of Latvia as a co-host, and will also evaluate the possibility of moving to a single-venue format to facilitate COVID-19 safety regulations and team travel," though it gave no indication of how long that might take.
Nevertheless Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš signalled in a virtual press conference January 18 that Latvia might be prepared to take on the burden of hosting the championships single-handed, subject to getting clarity on costs, revenues, the readiness of local ice rinks and not least whether it would be appropriate given the epidemiological situation and the risks inherent in having numerous international teams, officials and others descending on Rīga, even without spectators.
The World Ice Hockey Championship is scheduled for May 21 to June 6, 2021.