International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) general secretary Horst Lichtner has admitted that next year’s Men’s World Championship will not be held in Belarus if there is "chaos and revolution" in the country.
But Lichtner insisted the organisation is refusing to allow Latvia to blackmail them into stripping Belarus of its co-hosting rights after the country’s politicians threatened to withdraw from organising the event.
Lichtner was speaking in an interview with German radio station Deutschlandfunk where he responded to growing concerns by the Latvian Government over the unrelenting mass demonstrations against Alexander Lukashenko’s controversial re-election as Belarusian President in August.
Yesterday saw thousands of students, factory workers and business owners go on strike in Belarus after calls for Lukashenko to resign by midnight on Sunday (October 25) fell on deaf ears.
This also came a day after riot police reportedly threw stun grenades into crowds and chased protesters during one of the biggest demonstrations since August.
Last month, the Latvian Government wrote a letter to the IIHF, urging the governing body to replace Belarus.
According to a report by the Baltic Times, Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins has also cranked up the pressure on IIHF by giving them an ultimatum.
"We will urge the IIHF to consider some other country instead of Belarus," said Karins
"If the Federation refuses, and if the situation in Belarus does not change, the Government could consider Latvia's withdrawal from organising the 2021 Championship."
In response, Lichtner has criticised Latvian politicians for interfering with sports events and claimed only security problems in Belarus might force the IIHF to change the decision.
"We will not go to a country where there is a chaos and revolution, but the games should not be cancelled in Belarus if there is a completely normal situation," said Lichtner as reported by the Baltic Times.
Lichtner added that an IIHF Expert Group had been tasked with conducting a full review into the 16-team competition due to run from May 21 to June 6 next year.
Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya has also "raised the issue" of relocating the event in bid to pressurise Lukashenko who has ruled the country since 1994.
Tikhanovskaya is understood to have discussed the staging of the competition at a recent meeting with Canadian Foreign Minister Francois Philippe Champagne and three Baltic foreign ministers in Lithuanian capital Vilnius.
In an interview with BNS, Anna Krasulina, spokeswoman for Tikhanovskaya, said: "Tikhanovskaya met with the Foreign Ministers of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Canada to discuss the international investigation into the Lukashenko regime's crimes, documenting of atrocities, assistance to human rights and media organisations, and support for athletes.
"She also raised the issue of moving the Ice Hockey World Championship from Minsk to another location."
Latvia is among the countries to have sanctioned 30 officials in Belarus, including Lukashenko, for their ""central role in falsifying election results in Belarus and using violence against peaceful protesters".
Belarus is due to stage matches in 2021 at Minsk Arena, alongside co-hosts Latvia, which plans to use Arena Riga.
Both semi-finals and the medal matches are currently scheduled to be held in Minsk.
Minsk hosted the 2014 Men's World Championship alone.