After a sweeping recommendation from the International Olympic Committee to remove Russia and Belarus from international sporting competitions, following their invasion of Ukraine that began on 24 February, today the International Ice Hockey Federation announced a number of updates regarding their respective participation and hosting of future competitions.
The most immediate news was that effective immediately, Russia (still competing at the World Championships as the Russian Olympic Committee after a CAS ruling) and Belarus have been removed from all IIHF competitions until further notice. This immediately impacts 2022 World Championship tournaments, starting with the Russian and Belarusian men’s teams at May’s World Championships in Helsinki and Tampere, Finland.
Initial reports had also stated that Russia and Belarus would be replaced by 2019 relegated teams Austria and France, respectively, and Helsinki’s main venue will move from Hartwall Arena to the smaller, older Helsingin jäähalli, as Hartwall is majority-owned by Russian oligarchs (and close consorts of Vladimir Putin) Roman Rotenberg and Gennadi Timshenko, but this was not commented on by the IIHF and will likely come out in the coming days.
For future 2022 tournaments, Russian women’s players will not be participating at this summer’s Women’s World Championship in Denmark, and Russian junior will not participate at this summer’s make-up World Junior Championship in Canada, after the winter tournament was cancelled after three days due to COVID-19 concerns. Replacement teams, if any, have yet to be confirmed at this point.
In perhaps the bigger blow to the Russian Hockey Federation, Russia has been stripped of hosting duties for the 2023 World Junior Championship, set to take place in the Siberian cities of Novosibirsk and Omsk in December 2022 – January 2023. The 2023 World Championship, which was set to debut at a new arena in Saint Petersburg in May-June 2023, has not been impacted as of yet. Replacement venues have yet to be confirmed, but this will certainly deal a blow to the Russian sports world in particular, being unable to showcase their cities to a global audience. Russia and Belarus’ participation in the World Juniors, which was set to mark Belarus’ return to the World Junior Top Division, has yet to be decided.
Additionally, today the Swedish, Czech and Finnish hockey associations announced that the Russian team would be removed from the final two legs of the 2021-22 Euro Hockey Tour, removing their invitations to the Czech Hockey Games in April and Beijer Hockey Games in Sweden in May. A fourth replacement team is being looked into for these tournaments, with the goal of adding a different fourth permanent team for the 2022-23 Tour, based on their placement in the IIHF World Ranking. Switzerland and Latvia already confirmed as well that they would not compete in Euro Hockey Challenge games against Russia, and those games have been cancelled.
This is certainly an unprecedented move for the IIHF, an infamously neutral organization, but as noted in the report, the move was made “primarily out of concern for the health and well-being of all participating players, officials, and fans. The IIHF Council also expressed deep concerns over the safe freedom of movement of players and officials to, from, and within Russia.” Hopefully the invasion will soon end with limited loss of life, and relative peace can be restored along the Ukrainian border with Belarus and Russia.
Photo Credit: 2021 World Championship – IIHF – HHOF – IOC