Latvia is one of the hosts of the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk and Riga.
Is the IIHF currently thinking of a fallback option for hosting the 2021 World Championship? If so, which countries?
Fasel: No, there have not been any discussions about moving to other venues and about other countries. We have also not been approached by other countries who would be willing to host. We have approved hosts and agreements in Belarus and Latvia and have been working with the organizers from both countries to organize the event there.
What would need to happen that the World Championship in Riga and Minsk would not take place in 2021?
Fasel: It must be impossible to play at a venue during the event dates, or teams must be restricted from travelling to the event. This already happened of course, when the global pandemic prevented us from having the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Switzerland and many other events in our calendar. The same happened during the SARS epidemic with the 2003 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in China.
If you look back in the 100-year history of our World Championship, it needs extra-ordinary events to make it impossible to play. Before 2020 and 2003 there were only two such events: World War II and in 1930 the melting of the ice when we still played at a natural rink in Chamonix and had to continue the tournament in Berlin. We really hope that the situation in the world will be better in 2021 than it has been in 2020. The good news is that scientists and governments work fast on vaccines and medicine to bring the COVID-19 situation under control, and I’m positive for 2021.
Is there a possibility that one of the organizing countries will change?
Fasel: As mentioned, although we are closely monitoring the situation in Belarus, Latvia and all other countries hosting IIHF events, there are no plans to move at this time. We had a conference call of the IIHF Council recently where we discussed these and other concerns, but for a vast majority it was clear that we must continue to monitor the situation rather than act prematurely.
When our delegates from around the world voted three years ago to have the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship over the bid from Finland, the organizers from Belarus and Latvia had a very convincing bid with the slogan “passion, no borders”, with two countries and cities with passionate hockey fans, two great arenas and two organizers that want to work and do work closely together for a sporting event despite being in different environments.
How do you assess the achievements of Latvia and Belarus so far in organizing the championship?
Fasel: The organizers in both countries are on track and can feel the excitement of the fans in the countries but through e-mails and social media also from fans abroad who can’t wait for the World Championship. Due to the later start of the season in many countries, we moved the dates to start two weeks later to start on 21 May 2021 and the organizers are working on mastering the logistical challenges imposed due to this, on extending the rules for visa-free travel to Belarus for fans. They are working with us and all participants and stakeholders on the game schedule and on the ticket sale program. I think we will have news on this in a few weeks.
What is your personal opinion on the current situation in Belarus?
Fasel: At the IIHF neutrality and non-discrimination is high up in our statutes and we have always separated politics from sports and used sports to build bridges, open discussions, like with the successful campaign to have an integrated Unified Korea women’s team compete at the PyeongChang Olympics two years ago.
I was sad to see the images that reached us from Belarus. I was thinking of our current and former colleagues we got to know in Belarus during all these years. I really hope that Belarus can overcome this difficult period in a positive way.
Will the IIHF Semi-Annual Congress take place in September?
Fasel: It won’t take place. First and foremost it would be impossible to hold it physically in St. Petersburg or anywhere else in the world as planned. And second, we made most decisions for the upcoming season at an Extra-Ordinary Congress in June that was held virtually. What is remaining are organizational decisions on all the tournaments such as logistics and schedules that would normally be discussed between the delegates from the involved countries. We will find other ways to discuss this for each tournament and we also plan to have a global conference call for all members in September to see where our members are and discuss everything together.