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Latvia to host ice hockey world championship alone

Latvia will play host to 16 international ice hockey teams, officials, broadcasters and support staff from around the world this spring after the International Ice Hockey Federation decided Belarus could no longer take part in what was originally a joint bid for the IIHF Hockey World Championship.

"The IIHF Council has voted to confirm Riga, Latvia, as the sole host for the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, following the decision to withdraw the tournament from Minsk, Belarus," the IIHF said in a news release February 2. 

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 brutal and ongoing crackdown by the Lukashenko regime in Belarus as a contributing factor.

"With continued uncertainty surrounding international travel restrictions, the Council believes that keeping all teams in Rīga throughout the tournament and avoiding travel between two host countries is the safest and most cost-effective way to operate the event," the IIHF said.

The World Championships will take place in Riga under the following conditions, the governing body said: 

  • The main venue will be the Arena Riga in Riga and will host Group B, two quarter-final games, the semi-final round and the medal round
  • The second venue will be the Olympic Sports Centre, which will be converted into a 6,000-capacity ice rink and will host Group A and two quarter-final games
  • The Daugava Ice Rink, approximately 10 minutes from Arena Riga, will serve as the practice arena with two ice sheets. The arena is currently under construction and scheduled to be finished by the end of March 
  • All 16 participating teams will be housed in one hotel

The original dates slated for the competition were May 21-June 6, however the IIHF said "At [the] present time, there are no updates concerning the game schedule."

"With teams housed in one location and the Arena Riga and Olympic Sports Centre competition venues located approximately 150 metres away from each other, the IIHF would be able to implement a bubble concept if needed," the IIHF said. 

"Conversely, should the COVID-19 situation in Latvia improve to the point that spectators would be allowed to watch games, the IIHF together with the Local Organizing Committee would be prepared to initiate a ticketing offer within three-days’ notice of government approval to host fans in the venues," it added. 

The decision comes following a review process by the IIHF Office, which also examined hosting offers from Bratislava, Slovakia, and Herning, Denmark. 

“Ultimately the Council believes that keeping the whole tournament in one country allows us to be flexible. We can find cost-effective solutions to implement a bubble concept, but also we can put ourselves in a ready position to welcome fans to the World Championship if it is safe to do so,” said IIHF President René Fasel.

While many hockey fans are likely to welcome the decision, the uncertainty regarding what will happen epidemiologically between now and the tournament, plus the potential extra expenditure on the tournament at a time when finances are already stretched, is likely to mean others are less enthusiastic about hosting a pro sports tournament in the middle of a pandemic. 

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