Belarus dropped as World Hockey host over violent crackdown on protests

(Alexander Lukashenko, a hockey fan and player, failed to stage the biggest international event in Belarus since the country’s controversial August election./AFP)

The Council of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) decided not to hold the 2021 World Ice Hockey Championship (WCH) matches in Belarus as a result of the government's violent crackdown on democracy protests. 

The World Ice Hockey Championship was originally planned to be jointly hosted by Riga (Latvia) and Minsk (Belarus) from 21 May to 6 June. But due to the reactions of the Belarusian authorities to the protests in the country, the regular sponsors of the World Ice Hockey Championship - Nivea Men, Skoda and Liqui Moly - refused to support the competition if its matches are held in Minsk.

The protests in Belarus started in August 2020 when people went to the streets against massive electoral fraud. Peaceful protestors have endured violence and repression and many have been arrested. Workers in Belarus joined the growing democratic movement and went on strike, organising protest actions to demand an end to the violence and new elections in the country.

BWI together with EFBWW expressed their solidarity with the brave trade unionists and workers of Belarus who organised different forms of democratic and peaceful actions to protest the alleged massive electoral fraud in their country. BWI and affiliates also called on the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) to distance itself from Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko after its Executive Committee has picked Minsk to hold its Congress in March 2021. 

“During the last 5 months, trade unionists and workers around the world have closely followed the protests in Belarus and expressed, in whatever way they can, their solidarity to their struggle. The IIHF's decision demonstrates that democratic values are part of big sport games. We believe that the UEFA should also reconsider its plan to hold its congress in Belarus and cancel all other football matches that will happen in the country to protest the widespread human rights abuses. There must be no 'Lukashenko games’," said Ambet Yuson, BWI General Secretary. 

“BWI also calls on all organizations that have commercial interests in Belarus to be mindful of the country's human rights situation, allow workers to express their discontent and not use the excuse of “forbidden strikes” to lay-off or punish workers when they join industrial actions,” Yuson concluded.