Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

Ice Hockey finals in Belarus still on schedule

  • Belarus is hosting the 2014 World Ice Hockey Championship (Photo: Patxi64)

The large, red 2014 World Ice Hockey Championship billboards and posters adorning walls in the Belarus capital are unlikely to come down anytime soon.

Despite international pressure to pull the venue from Minsk, a spokesperson for the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation told this website on Thursday (22 March) that he does not know of any European national ice hockey federation that wants the event moved.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

In Finland, the response to the EUobserver query was concise. "We have absolutely no comment to make on this issue," said their national ice hockey federation spokesperson.

In Lithuania, the president of their national hockey federation, said there is no point in mixing politics with sports.

"I know the Belarus ice hockey federation and I know how much they have organised this event at the highest level. Politics should not be a factor," he said, adding that the sentiment is shared by federations in neighbouring countries.

But in Belarus, politics is never too far from removed from sports.

President Alexander Lukashenko is an avid ice hockey player and fan who, when not throwing his political opponents in jail, is also the head of the country’s national Olympic committee.

He has built 25 so-called ice palaces throughout the country with another 27 planned. Each ice-palace costs around €22.7 million, according to Fedynitch Gennadi, chairman of a Minsk-based trade union.

A call by the European Parliament in March to pressure the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to move the venue appear to largely have been ignored by the federations. The US passed a similar bill in January.

Both are demanding that Belarus release all its political prisoners for the event to continue in Minsk.

The IIHF, which organizes the championships, said it is possible the issue will be raised at the upcoming ice hockey congress in Finland this May. Delegates from the 70 national ice hockey federations would then put it to a vote.

But in a sign of decisions to come, the IIHF spokesperson noted that a statute in their laws does not allow them "to discriminate on religious, racial or political grounds." The vast majority of the federations already voted in favour of Belarus two years ago, when the country was officially selected.

Slovak centre-right MEP Peter Stastny, a former ice hockey star, said that European national ice hockey federations are largely funded by taxpayers.

Stastny wants the championship moved from Belarus, stating that MEPs overwhelmingly voted in favour of the European Parliament resolution on 20 January 2011 condemning Belarus for trampling democratic principles and human rights.

"Ice hockey championships is like the Olympics, it's a matter of prestige and I don’t personally want ice hockey to be associated with the dictator in Belarus," said Stastny.

Stastny believes the US law passed in January essentially determines how the US delegation will vote if the issue is raised in May. However, the US Hockey Federation declined to comment, telling this website that they "are aware of the situation."

Meanwhile, Lukashenko on Wednesday (21 March) called the European Parliament’s proposal "a political move, nothing else."

In Minsk, massive construction efforts are currently underway to improve inner-city infrastructure. A new underground metro line is being purposely built to carry fans to and from anyone of the two selected venues.

The largest of the two venues is the Minsk Arena, a glass and steel building that can seat some 15,000 people.

Lukashenko has been known to awaken members of the Belarus national ice hockey team in the middle of the night to play the game. But the nocturnal forays are not restricted to Minsk.

Near Brest on the Polish border, one ice-hockey rink has become the infamous venue for midnight matches where police and the business elite can knock about a puck while discussing the orders of the day, says Gennadi.

"Rich people from Minsk go to play hockey there in the night and locals call it the NHL, for Night Hockey League," he says.

Investigation

Belarus, EU sanctions and the $1mn bounty

Even as Lukashenko becomes increasingly cruel and unusual, the EU capital is seeing an unprecedented amount of lobbying on his behalf.

Name row on new EU sanctions exposes deeper rift

EU officials have voiced scepticism on proposed new human rights sanctions, amid a "nasty" debate to what extent Russia ought to be named and shamed in the title of the new measures.

Hopeless Gaza Strip ripe for Islamic State, says UN head

Fears are mounting that more extreme militants, possibly linked to the Islamic State, will gain a foothold in the Gaza Strip as trapped youth lose all sense of hope in a conflict that is on the verge of boiling over.

News in Brief

  1. Blow for May as third vote on Brexit deal ruled out
  2. Three killed in possible 'terror' gun attack in Utrecht
  3. Third Brexit vote this week only if DUP will support it
  4. Germany's two largest banks confirm merger talks
  5. Serbian pro-democracy protests reach 15th week
  6. 'Yellow Vest' riots leave Paris shops vandalised
  7. European woman older when having first baby
  8. Majority of Germans want Merkel to stay on

EU migrants sneaking into US from Mexico

Almost 1,000 Romanian nationals were caught trying to sneak into the United States in 2017, of which around half attempted to cross via Mexico. Nationals from countries like Hungary and the UK were also intercepted.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  3. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  6. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  11. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  12. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  2. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  5. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us