The IIHF today confirmed that no co-host will be named to replace Minsk, Belarus as co-host of the 2021 IIHF World Championship, with the entire tournament now set to be held in Rīga, Latvia.
Citing continuing safety and health concerns over COVID-19, the IIHF will now hold all events within a set zone around the Arēna Rīga, with the capacity to implement a bubble model if possible. Group B (which includes hosts Latvia) will be played in the main arena, while Group A, which was set to play in Minsk, will now play in the smaller Elektrum Olimpiskais centrs across the street. All players and team staff will stay in the same hotel throughout the duration of the tournament, and a decision on whether fans will be allowed to attend is still pending.
Rīga, which hosted the entire tournament previously in 2006, was decided instead of awarding Bratislava or Herning with the second host duty, due to the myriad of logistical challenges sure to face participating teams and the IIHF in the coming months, assuming the tournament moves forward. The IIHF recently completed a successful bubble model in Edmonton, Canada for the 2021 World Junior Championship, but would be hosting 16 nations instead of 10, with the possibility of players from playoff-eliminated NHL teams scattered across North America to converge on Rīga as well.
It remains to be seen how independent federations will decide on attending the Worlds this year, with Belarus potentially withdrawing in protest over losing hosting rights in Minsk, Russia being forced to compete under a neutral banner instead of the Russian flag, or other nations (particularly those from outside Western Europe) withdrawing over pandemic concerns. While the tournament seems to be a go, to avoid the first two-year delay of the World Championship since the Second World War, what the finished tournament will look like is still far from established.
Photo Credit: Arēna Rīga – IIHF – HHOF – IOC