A group of European Union and Belarusian politicians have petitioned the heads of national ice hockey federations and the EU leadership to move the 2014 Ice Hockey World Championship from Belarus to a different country over human rights abuse and the persecution of Alyaksandr Lukashenka's political opponents.
"We write to you not as leaders of the national federations of ice hockey, athletes or coaches but as fellow humans, all deserving of the same rights, respect and freedoms. We speak to you on behalf of the people of Belarus who suffer constant violations of their human rights, living under Europe’s last dictator", the appeal says.
The petitioners accuse Mr. Lukashenka of cracking down on dissent and using hockey to win popular support.
"We ask you to propose that the Ice Hockey World Cup is moved out of Belarus and to a country that respects the human rights of its people", the petition reads. "As human beings regardless of occupation we all share a responsibility to defend the human rights of those who are unable to defend themselves. Show the world that sport is not willing to be influenced by politics, no amount of lobbying by the Belarusian government will dissuade you from standing up for the human rights of all people".
The petitioners warn that if the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) does not "take a principled stand in support of human rights and move the world cup out of Belarus it is left to each of you to make a personal decision". "We ask that you make a moral choice and boycott this event that supports the last dictatorship in Europe", they say.
The petition has been signed by Belarusian opposition figures Iryna Bahdanava, Natallya Kalyada, Mikalay Khalezin and Iryna Krasowski, as well as European Parliament member Michael Cashman, British MP Tony Lloyd, Bruce Jackson, President of Project on Transitional Democracies, and playwright Tom Stoppard.
Speaking earlier this month, IIHF President Rene Fasel confirmed that the 2014 championship would take place in Minsk. "The Congress decided to go to Belarus in 2014. So the championship will be held in Belarus. We are away from political discussions", he said.