Hockey governing body wants troubled Belarus to host worlds

ZURICH (AP) — Belarus is still wanted as co-host for the 2021 men’s hockey world championship despite Latvia’s wish to remove its troubled neighbour from the project, the sport’s governing body said Tuesday.

Turmoil in Belarus is spreading after Alexander Lukashenko, the country’s authoritarian president for 26 years, ordered a violent crackdown of protests against his disputed election win this month.

“It is difficult to imagine how we could possibly organize this tournament together with Belarus at the moment,″ Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said Monday in comments reported by news agency LETA.

Latvia’s government wants the International Ice Hockey Federation to find a new co-host or it will consider withdrawing from the tournament, scheduled for May 21-June 6.

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“The IIHF acknowledges the statements made by the Latvian government, and we are currently awaiting further communication,” the Zurich-based hockey body said. “The main objective for the IIHF remains to play the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk and Riga,”

Minsk is due to host the semifinals and final.

The IIHF’s ruling council, chaired by president René Fasel, will meet in mid-September “to discuss the situation and inform of any updates to the status of the tournament,” the hockey body said.

The 2021 tournament should be the last under Fasel’s leadership, which started in 1994. The International Olympic Committee member’s final presidential term was extended when an election congress in St. Petersburg, Russia, was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Western authorities have said the election in the former Soviet republic of Belarus, in which Lukashenko officially got 80% of votes, was not free or fair.

In demonstrations that followed, police detained about 7,000 people and used rubber bullets, stun grenades and clubs. At least two protesters have died.

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