From Belarus without Love
With political unrest in Belarus and a President whose attitude towards Covid 19 could be described as stereotypically Russian at best the decision to remove the World Championships from the capital Minsk must come at a relief to many of the other nations. Team GB were due to play their group games in the city in May but are now waiting for the IIHF to make their decision on where to play the games.
It seems unlikely the IIHF will cancel the event given that the money involved and the fact that the World Juniors took place successfully in Canada. This leaves the federation with 3 basic options.
The co hosts of the event Latvia so far still planning to host their games it seems the best solution to move all games to the country. This will cut down on the need to cross boarders after the group stage which is getting increasing more difficult. Germany joined France, the UK and others requiring anyone entering the country (including from within the EU) to provide proof of a negative COVID test. The main issue though could be finding a suitable venue to complement the main arena in Riga and allow for the current schedule of between 4 and 6 games a day to be played. With fans highly unlikely to be allowed at the games Latvia’s next biggest hockey rink in Liepaja could provide a possibility. At just over 2000 capacity the LOC ice hall websites boasts of modern changing rooms. Although it housing 8 teams and staff in hotels in the seaside town may proof problematic. Another possibility could be the rather more snug surroundings of the Volvo Sports Centre in Riga with 1000 seat capacity. If we want to look at positives for Team GB both venues may remind them of rinks back home.
- Another Co host
The second possibility is for a second country to picked. Germany seems to be current favourite with its plentiful arenas in big cities it would certainly overcome the issues of venue and hotel. However relocating teams for the knockout stages may not be easy within their covid bubbles. A 1200km journey from Berlin to Riga would not be ideal preparation and flights would need to be arranged.
- Another host
Given the small venues in Latvia it could be that the entire event is moved to another country. Again Germany could be the front runner. It would be somewhat harsh on Latvia who have been planning for the event for other 2 years and through out the Covid pandemic. Even Covid cases in the country although raising are averaging at under 900 new cases a day. A rate below that of other countries including Germany and recent hosts Slovakia, Denmark and Czechia. Given the success of the recent Junior World Championships in Canada some had touted the entire event could be moved there but this seems unlikely given the clash with the NHL playoffs and the general indifference of the NHL to the event.
A swift decision by the IIHF is needed but it also needs to be thought out beyond the venue itself. This year more than ever it doesn’t matter who wins but that players and staff are safe. Given the facilities available at the highest level in Latvia and the Covid travel restrictions it does seem difficult to see how it can be played in Latvia.