IIHF President Rene Fasel says Latvia have offered to host the 2021 IIHF World Championships alone ©Getty Images

International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel has revealed that Latvia have made an offer to host the 2021 World Championships on their own if Belarus were to be stripped of co-host status.

Fasel told Russia's official state news agency TASS: "We received an offer from Latvia. They said they are ready to host 16 teams in two arenas in Riga."

A decision is expected at an IIHF Council meeting scheduled for late January.

"I think that within 5-10 days there will be a decision on Minsk.

"We need to hold several more meetings.

"If we cancel Minsk, then maybe other federations will come to us with a proposal, this is also possible," said Fasel, a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Offers to co-host instead of Belarus have also been received from Denmark and Slovakia.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko insisted earlier this week that: "We will hold a beautiful sports event in our country. We can do it without Latvia if they don't want it."

Pressure has been building this week since Fasel met Lukashenko who also leads the Belarusian National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Belarus.

Fasel was also pictured at a match with Belarus Ice Hockey Federation President Dmitry Baskov. 

Both Belarusian officials are provisionally suspended by the IOC and neither are permitted to enter Latvia.

Baskov is also the subject of an IIHF investigation and stands accused of complicity in the murder of dissident Raman Bandarenka who died last November, when he was injured while participating in a peaceful protest.

Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins today cast doubt on the ability of Belarus to continue as co-hosts.

Fasel (right) met with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko this week, with the purpose of opening and maintaining a constructive dialogue on the IIHF World Championships ©Getty Images
Fasel (right) met with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko this week, with the purpose of opening and maintaining a constructive dialogue on the IIHF World Championships ©Getty Images

"I want to say clearly that, seeing what is happening in Belarus, where peaceful protesters have been demanding fair and open elections, but the only reaction of the authorities is brutal repressions, I do not see it possible for Minsk to host the championship."

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas added his criticism on social media.

"Anyone who is serious about solidarity with Belarus cannot seriously want to hold an Ice Hockey World Championship in this situation.

"It would be the greatest PR gift for Lukashenko and a devastating signal to the demonstrators. I hope the organisers realise that."

A social media post also appeared to suggest that tournament sponsors Nivea Men would withdraw their backing if Belarus remain as co-host.

As it stands, the tournament is scheduled to begin on May 21 and Minsk is set to host eight teams in Group A including the 2018 Olympic gold medallists from Russia and Sweden who took the world title that year.

Meanwhile a Change.org online petition initiated by Belarusian ice hockey player Yulia Abasava, a goal minder, has now claimed close to 58,000 signatures in the wake of Fasel’s trip to Minsk.

The petition calls on the IIHF Council members to strip Belarus of their hosting rights when they meet later this month.

"I ask you today not to close your eyes to the fact that the tournament is being planned to be held in the country led by a bloody regime," says the petition.

"Do not compromise the IIHF and ice hockey in general in front of the international community.

"If Lukashenko's bloody regime remains, then many of the illegally arrested people will be convicted and sent to prisons before the tournament starts. 

"No tournament has more importance than human lives."