Finnish pro ice hockey team Jokerit, which plays in the Russian-dominated Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), did not travel to Belarus as scheduled on Thursday.
The team was to have played against Dinamo Minsk, but faced criticism over the planned match amid the violent suppression of anti-government protests in the city and the coronavirus pandemic.
On Wednesday a supporters club announced a boycott of the team’s home matches if the game went ahead. Minsk has been the scene of massive protests and police brutality since a presidential election on 9 August that has been widely condemned as fraudulent.
The team members were scheduled to fly from Helsinki Airport at 1 pm on Thursday, but did not show up for the chartered flight, according to an Iltalehti reporter at the airport.
Finnair confirmed to Yle that the flight did not take off.
Next stop Riga
According to the Flight Radar tracking site, Jokerit’s next charter flight is scheduled to depart on Friday to Riga, Latvia, where they are to play against a local team, also called Dinamo.
Helsinki and Riga are the only EU cities represented in the league. All but five of the KHL’s 23 teams are Russian, along with one each from Belarus, China, Finland, Latvia and Kazakhstan.
The decision to move Jokerit into the "eastern league" was made in 2013 by then-owner Hjallis Harkimo. He has since sold off his share in the team and been elected to Parliament, representing his own Liike Nyt (Movement Now).