(ATR) The pressure on the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to strip Belarus of co-hosting the men's world championship this year nears a crescendo.
Main sponsor Skoda is threatening to withdraw if Minsk, Belarus is allowed to remain co-host of the event from May 21 to June 6 with Riga, Latvia. The Czech company, which belongs to the VW Group, made the announcement on Saturday. Sponsor Nivea Men had already announced the same on Friday. On Sunday, Liqui Moly followed suit and also declared that it would end its involvement if the federation stood by its decision.
For weeks, pressure has been growing on the world governing body to move the tournament from Belarus because of violations of human rights under ruler Alexander Lukashenko.
"We have been a proud partner of the @IIHFHockey World Championship for 28 years. But we also respect and promote human rights," Skoda tweeted on Saturday.
"Therefore, #SKODA will withdraw from sponsoring the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship if #Belarus is confirmed to be co-hosting the event."
The ball was set rolling by Nivea Men. The brand from the Beiersdorf Group announced its withdrawal as a sponsor as early as Friday, should the World Cup be hosted in Minsk. Nivea Men has been active as an ice hockey sponsor for 14 years. "At the same time, Nivea Men always focuses on sport, because we believe that sport connects people. Nivea Men supports the IIFH values of fair play and respect and rejects all forms of discrimination and violence," reads a statement.
And on Sunday, Liqui Molly followed suit. "As a committed sports sponsor, LIQUI MOLY was looking forward to the IIHF Hockey World Championship 2021. In 2017, the decision to get involved was made. LIQUI MOLY is committed to fairness, respect, freedom, and the protection of and respect for human rights.
"The current situation in Belarus and the policies of the government there - above all the treatment of demonstrators and obvious violations of human rights in Belarus - are deeply at odds with LIQUI MOLY's convictions and values. For this reason, LIQUI MOLY has announced its withdrawal from sponsoring the Ice Hockey World Championship if the IIHF committee persists in holding the competition in Belarus."
The official sponsors of the federation also include Nike, Pirelli, Patron and Tissot.
This puts into perspective IIHF President René Fasel's fears of considerable financial damage if the contract with Belarus is not honored. IIHF Vice President Kalervo Kummola told the Russian state agency TASS that he was not surprised by the attitude of the sponsors. He added that others were also thinking the same way.
Fasel told TASS that the IIHF Council will meet virtually as early as January 18 and a decision should be reached by the end of the week. The council had planned to discuss the World Championship again on January 25 and 26 but has moved the timeline forward. "We have had a plan B since last fall," Fasel said most recently, bringing up a World Cup only in Latvia, Slovakia or Denmark.
The European Union has not recognized Lukashenko as president since the Aug. 9 presidential election, which was deemed rigged. Dozens of states have imposed sanctions against officials of the power apparatus. Protests against Lukashenko have resulted in more than 30,000 arrests, hundreds of injuries and numerous deaths since August. In addition, Belarus has come under criticism for its lack of coronavirus protection measures.
Written by Piet Kreuzer
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