Minsk is scheduled to host the European Track Championships in June ©Getty Images

The European Cycling Union (UEC) has said it still plans to hold the Track Elite European Championships in Belarus, with the organisation saying it was unable to find another suitable host for the competition.

The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) wrote to the UEC earlier this month, urging the organisation to relocate the event on human rights grounds.

Belarus has seen months of protests, which were triggered by the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in August.

Lukashenko’s re-election sparked widespread protests in the country, leading to a violent Government crackdown on demonstrators, which has seen athletes jailed and allegedly tortured for their involvement.

Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is currently in Lithuania, has called for renewed protests.

Freedom Day, a pro-opposition holiday on March 25, saw further arrests of protestors in Belarus.

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) announced in January that Minsk would no longer co-host its World Championship in May owing to security and safety concerns, but that announcement followed pressure from sponsors to move the event.

The International Modern Pentathlon Union followed the IIHF by confirming its World Championships will not take place in Minsk.

Calls have since been made for the UEC to follow suit, but the organisation says it is unable to move the European Championships in June.

The organisation said it was working in the best interests of athletes, amid a series of cancelled competitions.

New UEC President Enrico Della Casa, right, has written to the BSSF following calls to move the event ©UEC
New UEC President Enrico Della Casa, right, has written to the BSSF following calls to move the event ©UEC

"The UEC Constitution clearly stipulates that 'the UEC seeks to preserve the unity of world cycling, to promote the interests of European cycling in all disciplines, and to represent the interests of European cycling federations'," UEC President Enrico Della Casa wrote in a letter to the BSSF.

"In this respect and in accordance with the Olympic Charter and statutes/regulations of the Union Cycliste Internationale ("the UCI"), our priorities and attention are always focused on our National Federations and their athletes.

"This is the main reason why we have decided to keep the organisation of our Track Continental Championships for Elite/professional riders.

"Furthermore, we are legally contracted to host this event at this time and location and were unable to find another suitable host on this date.

"As you are aware, we have all been affected by the serious pandemic and athletes specialised in track cycling have especially suffered due to the lack of competitions.

"The recent cancellation of the UCI Nations Cup in Newport is an example of this and the European Championships are therefore a key event for European riders, in view of preparing for the forthcoming Olympic Games."

Protests have been met be a severe crackdown by authorities in Belarus ©Getty Images
Protests have been met be a severe crackdown by authorities in Belarus ©Getty Images

"Another significant point that we must stress is that the UEC respects the equality of all its member National Federations and does NOT AND CANNOT get involved in the internal matters of these Federations," Della Casa added.

"In my opinion this is certainly not the position of your Foundation in view of the comments in the letter sent on 25 March 2021 directly to all European National Federations.

"We would remind you that if the above-mentioned Championships were to be removed from Belarus, it would be the athletes themselves who would lose the most from this decision.

"Whilst I appreciate you may not of course agree, I trust you now understand, that, as an athlete centric organisation, we have decided to follow this course of action."

The UEC Track Elite European Championships are currently scheduled to take place from June 23 to 27.

The event will be one of the final competitions prior to the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

The UEC also highlighted recent comments from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), claiming that the recent National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Belarus (NOCRB) election had seen statutes updated "in line with the usual standards of good governance".

The UEC said this included strengthening the autonomy of the NOCRB, while adding that the IOC had "received an email from the NOC’s Athletes commission confirming their athletes' wish to compete under the country flag in the upcoming Olympic Games as the NOC of Belarus".

The IOC had ruled in December that the NOCRB had "not appropriately protected the Belarusian athletes from political discrimination within the NOC, their Member Federations or the sports movement".

Lukashenko and his son Viktor, who became NOCRB President last month, were both banned from attending the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

The IOC also told all constituents of the Olympic Movement, such as Federations, "to respect these measures in the interest of protecting Belarusian athletes’ rights and the reputation of the Olympic Movement".

The BSSF believes the IOC position and concerns from the European Union should lead to the UEC moving the European Championships from the Minsk Arena.