Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov has maintained that Russia remains committed to plans to develop the world’s largest ice hockey arena in St. Petersburg amid ongoing questions over the city’s hosting rights to the International Ice Hockey Federation’s (IIHF’s) 2023 World Championship.

In August 2018, billionaire businessman Gennady Timchenko first revealed plans to develop the arena for SKA Saint Petersburg, the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) club he owns. Timchenko, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the arena would come at a projected cost of at least R20bn (£239m/€286.7m/$320.5m).

The new arena will be built by 2023 and offer a capacity for 21,500 to 23,000 fans. It will be located within walking distance from the city’s Park Pobedy metro station. SKA currently plays at the 12,300-capacity Ice Palace, which opened in 2000 to host that year’s IIHF World Championship. The Ice Palace has been listed as one of two venues for the 2023 World Championship, along with the new arena, which is now under construction.

However, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA’s) ruling on the Russian doping scandal has thrown Russia’s hosting rights to the 2023 Worlds in doubt. On Monday, WADA upheld a recommendation for Russia to be banned from the international sports community for four years, with president Craig Reedie stating that a “robust response” was needed to a “blatant breach” by Russian authorities of the conditions needed to bring the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) back in line with global standards.

WADA’s Executive Committee unanimously endorsed the recommendation made last month by its independent Compliance Review Committee (CRC) that RUSADA be declared non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code for a period of four years.

The sanctions put forward by WADA include the provision that Russia may not host, bid for, or be granted in the four-year period, the right to host any major sporting events. Where the right to host a major event in the period has already been awarded to Russia, the signatory must withdraw that right and re-assign the event to another country, unless it is legally or “practically impossible” to do so.

This sanction applies to world, rather than continental, events. St. Petersburg was awarded hosting rights to the 2023 World Championship by the IIHF in September 2018. Concerning the development of the new arena, Kolobkov told state news agency Tass: “The arena in St. Petersburg will be constructed before the 2023 World Championship. There should be no worries at all as we will fulfil our obligations in full.”

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets has also expressed her hope that the hosting rights will be retained. “We expect that we will keep the World Championship in Russia,” said Golodets, who oversees sports and culture.

IIHF president Rene Fasel has stated the world governing body will attempt to ensure that its hosting rights decision will remain in place. Speaking yesterday, he said, according to the Reuters news agency: “Nothing is sure actually today, but we will work on that and do everything possible that we can to protect our interests and our Federation.”

RUSADA will meet to discuss WADA’s ruling on December 19, where it is expected that an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) will be recommended. Fasel said the IIHF will wait for the decision of any potential CAS hearing. “We really hope that it will not be a political decision but that it will be fair and a legal decision that will be made,” he added.

Image: IIHF