In an interview with SRF, International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President Rene Fasel revealed the details of his visit and meeting with Alexander Lukashenko to discuss the situation regarding possible cancellation of the 2021 Ice Hockey World Championship. He also commented on controversial photos of him hugging Lukashenko.
Unfortunately, BelarusFeed team doesn’t have interpreters speaking German, so there may be some inaccuracies since the text was translated via Google Translate and edited afterwards.
SRF News: Wasn’t it a mistake to hug an autocrat?
René Fasel: A picture like this is worth a thousand words. The aim of the trip was to have an important conversation with Lukashenko about the World Championship in Minsk. I have had good relations with Lukashenko for 20 years, we used to play hockey together and had much contact, including in 2014 [the first ice hockey world championship was held in Belarus – Ed]. The IIHF wanted to take the opportunity to have an open conversation with Lukashenko. The Hockey World Championship should be a kind of reconciliation between the opposition and the government. […] I wanted to use this special relationship with Lukashenko to do something nice. Now that’s messed up, I’m embarrassed too.
SRF News: But what kind of signal does your hug with Lukashenko send out?
René Fasel: We have a contract with the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation. It is our duty to host the Ice Hockey World Championship. There would also be consequences if this is not stopped now. So we said to ourselves: why not try to convince President Lukashenko that he can send a signal with the World Championship? Namely, that he seeks dialogue with the opposition. Imagine if we now cancel the World Championship in Belarus: will that change anything in the country? Certainly not. Lukashenko himself said that he wanted to change the constitution, that he was ready to hold new elections. We discuss this with him and try to do something good. I have to admit: I played with fire in Minsk. And we got burned a bit. Now it will be very hard to change this impression.
SRF News: Don’t you feel that you have been used?
René Fasel: No, certainly not. The first contact was very friendly. Then when we got the problems out on the table, it got very emotional. Such people are usually very difficult to talk to. Thanks to the special relationship I have with Lukashenko, we were able to get to the point. But on social media, you get an idea of what you see very quickly. Everything went wrong. And I am terribly sorry.
SRF News: But do you understand the criticism coming from politicians?
René Fasel: I am convinced that I did not do anything wrong. With the World Championship, we can achieve something that has not otherwise been achieved. Is there anyone who has already achieved something in Belarus with sanctions and boycotts? Nobody. I am an idealist in sport, sport brings people together. It has that power. One has to seek dialogue. I am embarrassed about how things turned out, and I take responsibility for that.
Recall that René Fasel was harshly criticized for hugging with Lukashenko and photos with Dmitry Baskov, who is under investigation by the International Ice Hockey Federation. IIHF Vice-President Kalervo Kummola said earlier that Fasel himself was shocked when photos from his meeting with Lukashenko were made public. The decision on whether the 2021 Ice Hockey World Championship will be held in Minsk will be made no later than 27 January. According to Kummola, the most likely option is to host the competition in Latvia alone.
Featured image: karikatu.rama