Belarus has been removed as UEC Elite Track European Championships host ©Getty Images

The European Cycling Union (UEC) has stripped Belarus of the rights to host its Elite Track European Championships following the arrest of journalist Roman Protasevich.

The organisation had faced mounting pressure in recent months to move the event from Belarus' capital city Minsk over human rights concerns.

This followed a Government crackdown on protests following last year's controversial Presidential election.

UEC officials insisted they was "legally contracted to host this event at this time and location and were unable to find another suitable host on this date", with the organisation announcing earlier this month that the event would proceed as planned.

The arrest of Protasevich led to the international community imposing fresh sanctions on Belarus, and the UEC facing more calls to act.

On Sunday (May 23), Belarus dispatched a fighter jet to force a flight from Greece to Lithuania to land in Minsk, claiming there was a bomb threat.

Police arrested Protasevich and his partner, Sofia Sapega, when the Ryanair plane landed.

Protasevich is a critic of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who is viewed by much of the international community as a dictator.

His re-election last year came after an election which was widely considered to be rigged.

Belarus' actions have been widely condemned and its claims Hamas threatened to blow up the aircraft rejected - including by the Palestinian organisation itself.

Sanctions have been imposed by the European Union and other organisations.

Most airlines have stopped entering Belarus' airspace following the "hijacking" of the plane and there are fears for the safety of Protasevich.

A video of the journalist confessing to crimes, seemingly under duress, was released by Belarusian authorities.

A UEC Management Board meeting today has led to the event in Belarus being cancelled, with the European body now seeking a replacement host.

The European Championships were scheduled to run from June 23 to 27.

Minsk's hosting had been plunged into doubt after teams announced their intention to withdraw ©Getty Images
Minsk's hosting had been plunged into doubt after teams announced their intention to withdraw ©Getty Images

"We have recently been monitoring the situation with the Belarus Cycling Federation which has now developed into an international debate and today during the Management Board meeting, we have decided to cancel the event in Minsk," said Enrico Della Casa, UEC President.

"I would like to thank the Belarus Cycling Federation and its President and Management Board member, Natallia Tsylinskaya, who has worked with great dedication to help prepare the event and for the important initiatives planned to develop the sport of cycling in Belarus with a programme of additional activities during the European Championships.

"We are already working on finding an alternative solution to enable the riders from our 50 National Federations to compete in this season's continental event."

Pressure had previously been applied by National Federations, with the German Cycling Federation saying it would not send athletes to the event if it was held in Minsk.

Dutch cyclists were also set to miss the event for health and safety reasons, while British Cycling performance director Stephen Park was quoted as saying there was "no way" the UEC could have delivered the event in Belarus.

Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania's Foreign Minister, confirmed athletes would not have travelled to Belarus and that the country has offered to host the event.

Lithuania was last week announced as the host of a round of the inaugural UCI Track Champions League.

Denmark could be another option for the UEC.

The National Olympic Committee and Sports Confederation of Denmark instructed Danish Cycling Union President and UEC vice-president Henrik Jess Jensen to offer the country as a venue.

The UEC has become the latest organisation to remove an event from Belarus.

The International Ice Hockey stripped Belarus of co-hosting rights for its ongoing World Championship earlier this year, citing "growing safety and security concerns related to both the rising political unrest and COVID-19".

The International Modern Pentathlon Union moved its World Championships from Minsk to Egyptian capital Cairo, while the International Biathlon Union has removed Belarus from the World Cup circuit.

President Lukashenko and his son Viktor - who replaced him at the head of the country's National Olympic Committee earlier this year - have both been banned from attending the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games over allegations of political discrimination towards athletes, some of whom have been imprisoned.