Just under three weeks after announcing that Russia and Belarus were banned from IIHF participation after the Russian-led and Belarusian-backed invasion of Ukraine that began on 24 February, today the International Ice Hockey Federation announced replacement clubs for upcoming participation in the upcoming 2022 Men’s, Women’s and Junior World Championships.
For the first major upcoming tournament, the Men’s World Championship set to begin on 13 May in Helsinki and Tampere, Finland, it was announced that the Russian O.C. and Belarusian teams would be replaced by France and Austria, respectively, who are the next top-ranked countries in the IIHF World Ranking, and were the most recent relegations to Division IA in 2019, before lower division promotion and relegation was largely stopped due to COVID-19 cancellations. To ensure equity amongst Division I teams, Lithuania will move up to Division IA in Slovenia, ensuring that both Division IA and IB have five teams each competing. The bottom team from each division will be relegated, with the top Division IB team moving up, while the top two Division IA teams will be promoted to the Top Division for the 2023 World Championship.
For the next tournament, the Women’s World Championship set to begin on 26 August in Herning and Frederikshavn, Denmark, it was announced that to replace the Russian O.C. in Group A, the next highest ranked team in the IIHF World Ranking, Japan, would move up to the higher group and be guaranteed no relegation, and that the next top-ranked team in Division IA would join Group B, meaning Sweden will return to the Top Division for the first time since their historic fall from the Top Division in 2019. Division IA this year, held in France, will only feature five teams, and only have one team promoted to the Top Division, with only one Top team going back down in 2022.
And lastly, for the to-be rescheduled World Junior Championship, set to pick back up in Edmonton, Canada in August after being cancelled due to the COVID Omicron variant in December, it was confirmed that the next highest ranked Division IA team, Latvia would take Russia’s place in Group B, alongside the United States, Sweden, Switzerland and Slovakia. Details around the 2023 World Juniors, which were stripped of hosting duties from Russia, and would currently see Belarus participate by virtue of their 2021 Division IA victory, have yet to be determined.
It remains to be seen that if the invasion comes to a hopeful resolution sooner than later, how this will impact international hockey, and even international sport, moving forward into the 2022-23 season and beyond.