The report was initiated by the IIHF Council following its last meeting in September 2020, in response to the ongoing challenging situation within Belarus and Latvia that has affected preparations for the tournament, scheduled to be co-hosted in Minsk and Riga from 21 May-6 June 2021.
“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.”
In addition to citing credible safety concerns for tournament participants and fans under the current safety environment, the independent report included a COVID-19 threat assessment that expressed skepticism over the reporting of virus numbers within Belarus, the virus caseloads since September 2020, and the extent of national measures being taken to suppress the pandemic.
“These are very real and very serious considerations, as this tournament is the most important asset of the IIHF and supports so much of what we do,” said Fasel. “If you take a normal season situation it wouldn’t be realistic right now that Belarus and Latvia could guarantee their capability to conduct World Championship tournament operations.”
Fasel emphasized that based on the report the IIHF questions whether the tournament in Minsk/Riga can be played if the current situation remains as it is presently, but equally that the IIHF cannot be put in a position where it is unable to deliver a World Championship. He agreed together with the Council that more time would be needed to review the situation and decide on the best course of action.
The report was compiled by experts who provided analysis from various geopolitical, historical, financial, contractual, marketing, and sport management standpoints. Fasel said that while the report highlighted many issues, it would not make sense for the Council to make a decision before it would be absolutely necessary. He emphasized that with the situation on the ground, the status of the co-hosting agreement between Belarus and Latvia, and the COVID-19 pandemic, a step-by-step process was necessary.
“We must be assured that a World Championship can take place in a safe and responsible way, for everyone,” said Fasel.
The IIHF Council also made it clear that with so many potential scenarios, the IIHF needed to be very careful and take a methodical approach.
“We have an obligation to our membership and to protect the IIHF at all costs,” said Fasel. “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.”
“Whatever we decide to do, we will take our time to make a rational decision based on the best research and information we have,” said Fasel. “This report was a great start for us and initiated very constructive discussion among the Council members.”
“We will take what we learned, go back to the organizing committees and the governments and find the best way forward for the IIHF and its members.”