The hockey world is patiently waiting for IIHF to make a decision. The right decision! On November 18th – the day that is very important for one of the co-hosts of the 2020 IIHF World Championships – The International Hockey Federation’s council met to review the situation in Minsk, Belarus. Everyone expected an announcement of some sort but nothing came from it.
It’s clear as a day to everyone that Minsk being allowed to co-host the World Championships would be a huge mistake given the ongoing political situation in the country. Sure, one thing is Lukashenko rigging the election, ignoring democracy, but another thing is what’s happening in the streets of the Belorussian capital. Brutal forces are being deployed by the self-proclaimed president. There are countries already taking action, enforcing restrictions and sanctions against Belarus. Yet the head organization in the world of hockey continues to step aside putting the sport above everything.
Here’s what he had to say about the situation initially:
“We are not yet under pressure to make immediate decisions regarding the tournament, and we must keep analyzing the situation in both countries as it evolves,” said IIHF President René Fasel who continues to argue that sport and politics should not be mixed despite the appalling scenes being recorded daily in Minsk.
“The IIHF President stressed that the organization operates outside politics and is trying to do everything possible to make the World Championships take place in the two countries,” said an IIHF release. The organization has a working group looking into the future of the tournament which officially at least is scheduled to go ahead as planned.
His stance has changed and after the council meeting, he stressed that there are actual concerns about safety related to the current situation in the country as well as the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The reports we received from this expert group analysis triggered serious discussions within the IIHF Council,” said IIHF President René Fasel. “There are issues occurring within Belarus that we need to take seriously because there is a significant risk that the current challenges in Minsk, the government position of the Latvian co-host, and the COVID-19 pandemic will have a significant impact the 2021 World Championship in Minsk and Riga.”
What government position is he talking about? He’s referring to the Prime Minister of Latvia stating that it would be unacceptable for his country to host the event alongside Belarus.
“We will urge the IIHF to consider some other country instead of Belarus. If the federation refuses, and if the situation in Belarus does not change, the government could consider Latvia’s withdrawal from organizing the 2021 championship,” said Karins. ”It is difficult to imagine how we could possibly organize this tournament together with Belarus at the moment,” the PM said.
Ever since the IIHF leadership and the Latvian side have exchanged letters and addressed concerns. On November 12th both sides sat down to further advance the talks prior to the IIHF’s council meeting. Once again the hockey organization stressed that it cannot operate under political pressure but assured that they have listened and taken into account the concerns expressed. After the meeting, the Latvian PM informed the public that if the country will have to make a serious decision in regards to hosting it will happen once there is a decision made addressing Belarus as the co-hosting nation.
The council meeting came and we got nothing. Absolutely nothing. At least not officially.
“We have an obligation to our membership and to protect the IIHF at all costs,” Fasel stated after the meeting. “We must do everything possible to hold the tournament with the assigned hosts, but before this we have to determine if it is safe to go, and if we determine it is safe to go whether the co-hosts will still be willing to work with each other.”
One thing is what you say officially, another thing is what you say behind closed doors, right? The sponsorship money could also become an issue and I believe that it’s the biggest worry for the federation. There have been many indications that if Belarus were to retain their rights, many of the major sponsors would be taking back their bags of money.
The Hockey News Ryan Kennedy reported on Thursday that the IIHF president Fasel is en route to Russia in order to begin talks for the Belorussian group of the tournament to be moved to Russia. Where there is smoke – there is fire. Although the report isn’t exactly true, both sides have begun preliminary talks. But those are talks without an actual substance at this time. Russia, Finland and many more are still considered as ”just in case options”. Many discussions have been had and there are still miles to go. The most realistic option right now? Latvian side could become the sole host for the tournament. Although the Baltic side doesn’t know much more than we, the public do, at least according to the head of the organizing committee of the Latvian side Edgars Buncis.
‘‘Right now we only have seen and received the information that has been made public, we haven’t got any explanations or situation reports from them” he said. ”If the situation presented itself and we would be the only host – the technical issues, preparation process would require six months. There is plenty of reconstruction work to do, as well as more locker rooms would be required.”
Obviously taking on extra duties would mean extra costs. As reported by Latvian TV programme ”Sporta Studija’‘ – Latvia currently is committed to spend around eight million euros. If they were taken on the other half of the tournament, it would add around five more millions to the expenses. However, Buncis stressed that they’re expecting to cover costs from the income that would be made by ticket and other revenue sources. However, Latvia at this point won’t be able to handle organizing the event without help from the IIHF, if it were to carry the whole load for the tournament.
There is another issue at hand – the president of the Belorussian Hockey Federation has been blacklisted by the Latvian government and he’s no longer allowed to enter the country after he allegedly was involved in assault and kidnapping of a civilian which later sent a 39-year-old male to hospital with a severe head trauma, where later he died.
”I’m not as worried about Baskov not being able to enter the country as I’m concerned about the situation that he has gotten himself into” Buncis revealed to Latvia Public Media. ”On one hand – he hasn’t been found guilty, on the other hand, they haven’t responded to our questions on the matter. We haven’t even gotten as much as a denial of his wrongdoing,” he added.
What is going to happen? We don’t know for certain but we are truly hoping that Belarus is removed from hosting the tournament. And I sure you that as soon as we know more, I will be reporting on the matter but in the meantime – let’s keep our fingers crossed for common sense to prevail!