MOSCOW (Reuters) – The head of ice hockey’s international governing body said on Tuesday it would do everything possible to ensure the 2021 world championship is held in Belarus as planned despite calls from the opposition to move the tournament.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has faced weekly protests since claiming victory in an Aug. 9 election his opponents say was rigged. Lukashenko, who is an avid hockey fan, denies rigging the vote and has rejected calls to step down.
“I will meet with Alexander Lukashenko and we will discuss the current situation,” International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) president Rene Fasel told Russia’s RIA news agency. “We will do everything possible for the world championship to take place in Minsk. We will make every effort.”
The meeting, Fasel said, would take place in Belarus some time after Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7.
Neighbouring Latvia, with whom Belarus is due to co-host the 2021 tournament, has been a vocal critic of Lukashenko since the election, imposing sanctions on him and other Belarusian officials.
The IIHF Council in November said it needed more time to assess the situation around the tournament.
Fasel said at the time that “the current challenges in Minsk, the government position of the Latvian co-host, and the COVID-19 pandemic” could affect the tournament, which is set to run from May 21 to June 6.
Minsk previously hosted the tournament in 2014.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christian Radnedge)