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IIHF removes 2023 World Championship from St. Petersburg

Russia has lost its latest major sporting event owing to its invasion of Ukraine, with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) stripping hosting rights to its 2023 World Championship from St. Petersburg.

The IIHF Council said it took the decision “out of concern” for the safety and well-being of all participating players, officials, media, and fans. Russia was awarded the hosting rights in May 2019, with the Championship having been due to take place in St. Petersburg from May 5-21 next year.

Russia had been planning to host the Championship in two arenas in St. Petersburg. One is currently under construction and once complete may become the biggest ice arena in Europe with a seating capacity ranging between 21,500 and 23,000.

The other arena was due to be the Ice Palace, which is currently the home of Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) club SKA St. Petersburg. The venue (pictured) has a 12,300-seat capacity and has been set for redevelopment.

The IIHF said an alternative host for the 2023 World Championship will be confirmed during its 2022 Annual Congress in Tampere, Finland, which will take place during the final week of the 2022 World Championship, which is being held in the former Finnish city and Helsinki from May 13-29.

The IIHF added: “The decision to relocate the event was taken primarily out of concern for the safety and well-being of all participating players, officials, media, and fans. As was the case with Council’s earlier decision to withdraw the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship that was to be held in Omsk and Novosibirsk, Russia, the Council expressed significant concerns over the safe freedom of movement of players and officials to, from, and within Russia.

“The IIHF Council prioritised this decision for the April meeting, in order to ensure an alternative hosting option and give the new host enough time to make preparations.”

The announcement continues a period of upheaval for the IIHF’s flagship national team competition. The 2020 World Championship in Switzerland was cancelled due to COVID-19, while the hosting strategy has been altered for both this year’s event and the 2021 competition.

Helsinki Halli was last month stripped of hosting rights for the 2022 Championship in Finland, with the decision reportedly linked to its connections to Russians on the international sanctions list.

The 13,000-capacity arena was due to co-host the event alongside Tampere’s Nokia Arena. However, the IIHF announced that games scheduled to take place at the Helsinki Halli will now be played at the smaller Helsinki Ice Hall, which seats 8,200 spectators.

The IIHF did not disclose a reason for the venue switch, but Helsinki Halli is owned by Arena Events Oy, a company belonging to Russians Gennady Timchenko and Roman Rotenberg. Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Timchenko and Rotenberg are on the international sanctions list.

The IIHF in February 2021 granted sole hosting rights for last year’s World Championship to Riga. The Latvian capital had been due to host the tournament alongside neighbouring Minsk in Belarus from May 21 to June 6, with games to be split between the Minsk Arena and Arena Riga.

However, the IIHF earlier stripped the Belarusian capital of its co-hosting rights due to safety and security issues the governing body stated were beyond its control. Belarus’ ability to host the event had been placed into doubt due to political instability in the country.

Image: АлексейОбыкновенный/CC BY-SA 3.0/Edited for size