Ice hockey: Latvia to host world championship after Belarus stripped of event

·2-min read

(Reuters) - The 2021 men's ice hockey world championship will be held in Riga, Latvia, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) announced on Tuesday, after Belarus was stripped of the right to co-host the tournament.

Safety concerns over political unrest, the COVID-19 pandemic in Belarus and sponsors threatening to pull out if the tournament was held in Minsk prompted the sport's governing body to strip the country of co-hosting rights last month.

Denmark and Slovakia were willing to co-host the event but the IIHF decided it was best to keep all teams in Riga throughout the May 21-June 6 tournament and avoid travel between countries.

"I would like to thank our members from Denmark and Slovakia for their willingness to assume hosting duties for the World Championship on such short notice," IIHF president Rene Fasel said in a statement.

"But ultimately the council believes that keeping the whole tournament in one country allows us to be flexible.

"We can find cost-effective solutions to implement a bubble concept, but also we can put ourselves in a ready position to welcome fans to the World Championship if it is safe to do so."

The tournament will be held at two venues in the capital city -- the Arena Riga and the Olympic Sports Centre. All 16 teams are set to be housed in one hotel.

The IIHF added that Latvia's Local Organising Committee would also be prepared to sell tickets within three days of government approval for fans to return to stadiums if the COVID-19 situation improves in the country.

Calls for Belarus to be stripped of the event had gathered steam among members of the Belarusian opposition because of President Alexander Lukashenko's crackdown on protesters opposing his re-election.

Last year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned Lukashenko, an avid hockey fan and player, from the Olympic Games.

Volkswagen's Skoda Auto and Liqui Moly had threatened to pull out as tournament sponsors if it was held in Belarus.

(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Alex Richardson and Pritha Sarkar)