The 2021 World Ice Hockey Championship has no Place in Belarus

  • by EECA
  • 12 January 2021

Minsk, Paris – René Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), visited Minsk yesterday to discuss with Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko the 2021 World Ice Hockey Championship, scheduled to take place in Belarus and Latvia in May and June. FIDH and Viasna believe that relocating the championship outside Belarus would demonstrate the IIHF’s integrity, respect for human dignity, and its own commitments under the IIHF code of conduct. The two organisations thus call on the IIHF to strip Belarus of co-host rights.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Viasna Human Rights Center (Viasna) believe that by allowing the 2021 World Championship to take place in Belarus, the IIHF would, in effect, support and legitimise a morally bankrupt regime which violates the human rights of the people of Belarus in an alarming and unprecedented way. The Ice Hockey World Championship should take place in Belarus only if the country’s government makes significant progress in the field of human rights – most importantly by releasing all political prisoners, putting an end to repression, and agreeing to hold fair elections.

FIDH and Viasna warn that holding the Championship in Belarus would be unethical not only in light of these serious human rights violations, but also because it could lead to fans, athletes and journalists being harmed. Today, our two organisations sent an open letter to the IIHF, calling for the tournament to be moved to an alternative co-host.

"This week marks the sixth month of protests which followed Belarus’ falsified presidential election, and we are confident that the protests will continue well into 2021. That is why FIDH and Viasna are afraid that athletes, sport journalists and hockey fans could become accidental victims of this repressive machine, should the 2021 World Ice Hockey Championship take place in Minsk."

Ilya Nuzov, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at FIDH

The scale of police violence in Belarus continues to be deeply concerning. Since 9 August, over 33,000 people were detained, while over 1,000 were subjected to torture, sexual violence and other inhuman treatment. Hundreds were injured and at least four men were killed as a result of the crackdown. Among those harmed by law enforcement officials’ indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks are peaceful protesters, including prominent athletes, journalists, women, minors and even pensioners.

The Championship will likely trigger further violence against civil society – a deplorable scenario that we have already seen occur, when the IIHF let Belarus host the Championship in 2014.

Despite numerous calls from the European Parliament, human rights groups, and prominent athletes for the Championship to be moved to another country, yesterday images were published of René Fasel embracing Lukashenko – the man behind the ongoing police violence as well as several political murders that took place in the 1990s. A decision to strip Belarus of its co-host rights could be taken as soon as this month, and we urge the IIHF to do so without delay.

Earlier this month, after René Fasel’s visit to Minsk was announced, FIDH and Viasna sent a letter to the IIHF requesting an opportunity to discuss the Championship. The organisations maintained that Mr Fasel’s visit would not be complete without meeting with Belarusian civil society. The IIHF did not respond to the letter.

The letters can be found here:
Letter from 5 January 2021
Letter from 13 January 2021