International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President René Fasel has admitted the organisation is in talks with countries which could replace Belarus as co-host for this year's Men's World Championship.
There have been numerous calls for the IIHF to strip Belarus of the right to stage the event - including from the Prime Minister of co-host Latvia - following the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko last year and a harsh crackdown on the protests which have followed.
While Fasel, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, has consistently resisted calls to strip Belarus of co-hosting rights and "allow ourselves to be under pressure from politics", an IIHF Expert Group expressed "scepticism" over the reporting of COVID-19 cases in Belarus following a review into the situation.
This opened up a scenario whereby the IIHF could move the event from Belarus on health grounds.
"We are talking with representatives of other possible federations that can organise the World Championships," Fasel said in comments reported by Russian state news agency TASS.
"This will be a serious challenge from a financial point of view.
"If a decision is made not to go to Minsk, then we will immediately begin a discussion about a possible country that will replace Belarus.
"But nothing has been officially approved yet."
Fasel also revealed that the IIHF Council will make a final decision later this month.
"The IIHF uses all resources to accurately understand the situation in Belarus," the President added.
"We have already had a lot of discussions.
"Now we need to talk with the Government of Belarus and discuss the political situation with the coronavirus."
Fasel had been due to visit Belarus for talks with Lukashenko in December, but could not travel as he had COVID-19.
Russia had offered to replace Belarus as host, but it would no longer be permitted to do so under sanctions imposed on the country by the World Anti-Doping Agency which will also see it unable to compete under the national flag at the event, should it go ahead.
Lukashenko, who also heads the National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Belarus (NOCRB), has been banned from attending the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as part of sanctions imposed on the NOC by the IOC.
The IOC has been investigating allegations that athletes have been tortured, beaten and arrested for speaking out or participating in demonstrations against Lukashenko.
IOC President Thomas Bach said that Lukashenko and other senior members of the NOCRB "had not appropriately protected the Belarusian athletes from political discrimination within the NOC, their member sports federations or the sports movement" when the sanctions were announced.
"This is contrary to the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter, and therefore seriously affects the reputation of the Olympic Movement."
The IIHF is also investigating Belarusian Ice Hockey Association (BIHA) President Dmitri Baskov, who has been accused of involvement in the death of an opposition activist.
The 2021 Men's World Championship is scheduled to be held from May 21 to June 6, with games to be played in Riga and Minsk as things stand.