RIGA - The flags of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) will be taken down in Riga, Mayor Martins Stakis (For/Progressives) said on social networks, commenting on IIHF President Rene Fasel's request to remove the organization's flags from locations where they are flown alongside Belarus' historical flag in the Latvian capital.
The Riga mayor indicated that he has received Fasel's letter with the demand to return Belarus' official flag in locations where it has been replaced with Belarus' historical flag during the IIHF Ice Hockey Championship in Riga. "If we don't do that, we are required to remove the IIHF flags," the Riga mayor said.
Stakis underlined that the Belarusian flags are being flown in Riga - these are the white-red-white flags of a free Belarus. The Ice Hockey World Championship is first of all a festive event for the athletes, fans, as well as residents of Riga and Latvia, the Riga mayor said.
However, we must not forget that a couple of hundred kilometers from Riga's main ice hockey arena, an EU plane has just been hijacked and people are being tortured and killed by a regime that is behaving like brutally both on its own soil and internationally, the Riga mayor said.
Sport should not be mixed with politics, but sadly, for quite some time this is not the case anymore, Stakis said.
"World-class athletes have been arrested, persecuted and exiled from Belarus, while international sports officials have often remained silent. In this situation to keep silent and pretend that nothing has happened and to just enjoy hockey - it would not be acceptable to me. I love hockey, but sport cannot be used to veil one's crimes," the Riga mayor said.
He said that he has received tens of thousands of letters of gratitude from all over the world for replacing Belarus' official flag with the historical white-red-white one.
Fasel, however, is of a different opinion and demands that Belarus' freedom flag be removed. If not, Riga must take down the IIHF flags. "This time, everyone has to choose which side to take - the side of the persecuted and freedom-craving people or the bloody and rogue dictator. I have made my choice - at Mr. Fasel's request we will take down the IIHF flags," the Riga mayor said.
As reported, the IIHF has demanded that the flags of the organization and the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship be removed from the locations where they are flown alongside Belarus' historical flag in Riga, IIHF President Rene Fasel informed Russian news agency TASS.
On Monday, Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics (New Unity) and Riga Mayor Martins Stakis (For/Progressives) replaced the Belarusian national flag with Belarus' historical white-red-white standard at the Radisson Blu Hotel Latvija where the Belarussian national ice hockey team is staying during the tournament.
"We sent the mayor of Riga a letter. It is unacceptably for us. We will not replace the flags at the arena. We will ask to remove the World Championship and IIHF flags from the locations where the Belarusian flag was replaced in Riga,”," TASS quoted Fasel as saying.
On Monday evening, the Belarusian Hockey Federation (BHF) informed that it had presented a note of protest to the IIHF, the organizers of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and the Latvian Hockey Federation (LHF) over the replaced flags. LHF President Aigars Kalvitis confirmed to LETA that the organization has received a written request to ensure the Belarussian players' security at the championship.
The BHF also said it had received reports of unauthorized picketing near the places of residence of the Belarusian team. Kalvitis denied these reports and said that the tournament's organizers had no information that somebody had tried to contact the Belarussian players living in the championship's "bubble".
The LHF president also denied suggestions that the current spat between Latvia and Belarus will affect the Belarussian team's participation in the championship. Kalvitis ruled out the Belarussian teams' expulsion from the tournament.
Originally, Riga and Minsk were supposed to co-host the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship, but on January 16 the IIHF stripped Minsk of the rights to organize the tournament. In February, Riga was approved as the host of the championship.