The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has decided to move the hockey world championship from Minsk, Belarus due to safety and security concerns, the organisation announced on Monday.
Kalervo Kummola, vice president of the IIHF, told Yle Sports the decision was made due to the ongoing difficult political situation in Belarus.
"The games will not be held in Belarus and will be moved away. That, of course, was not an easy decision. Belarus is a great hockey country but the president's activities there have been such that the pressure was too great and we could not guarantee the safety of fans, either," Kummola told Yle, referring to Belarus' authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko.
Last summer, Lukashenko declared himself the winner of the presidential election, a position disputed by the opposition, sparking widespread protests that continue in Minsk every weekend.
Meanwhile, Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green) said he thinks the decision to take the games out of Belarus was correct, not only due to the country's shaky human rights situation but also because of safety issues surrounding the coronavirus epidemic.
"The decision was certainly correct and recognition must be given to Kalervo Kummola, the IIHF's vice president. He has been very systematic and saw the threats [involved] if the games were held in Belarus," Haavisto said.
The championships were scheduled to take place in Minsk as well as Riga, Latvia from 21 May - 6 June.
The organisation's council reached its decision regarding Belarus on Monday, Kummola said, but noted that no final decision had been made regarding where the games will take place.
"It will take a couple of weeks for these negotiations to conclude. I have been of the opinion that it would be easiest to organise in Riga, but there are a few question marks regarding Riga's second [venue]," he said.
In the organisation's statement, president René Fasel said taking the games out of Minsk was "very regrettable."
"During this process, we had tried to promote that the World Championship could be used as a tool for reconciliation to help calm the sociopolitical issues happening in the Belarus and find a positive way forward."
"And while the council feels that the world championship should not be used for political promotion by any side, it has acknowledged that hosting this event in Minsk would not be appropriate when there are bigger issues to deal with and the safety and security of teams, spectators, and officials to prioritize," Fasel continued.
In a statement, the IIHF said its bylaws permit the federation council to withdraw a championship "from a hosting nation if there is reason for concern that the well-being or the safe freedom of movement of the players, officials, traveling spectators and media is in doubt."