Skoda to withdraw sponsorship if Belarus hosts hockey worlds

PRAGUE (AP) — Czech carmaker Skoda has warned that it will withdraw its sponsorship of the ice hockey world championship if Belarus remains as co-host amid calls to move the event following mass protests against authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko.

Skoda, which belongs to Germany’s Volkswagen Group, said Saturday on Twitter that it has been a “a proud partner” to the annual tournament for 28 years but “we also respect & promote all human rights.”

“Therefore, SKODA will withdraw from sponsoring the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship if Belarus is confirmed to be co-hosting the event,” the carmaker said.

The worlds are scheduled to be co-hosted by Belarus and Latvia starting in May. Latvia and other countries have urged the International Ice Hockey Federation to find a different co-host because of Belarus’ crackdown on opposition groups.

Mass protests swept Belarus, a former Soviet nation of 9.5 million people, after official results from the presidential election on Aug. 9 gave Lukashenko a landslide victory over his widely popular opponent, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. She and her supporters refused to recognize the result, saying the vote was fraudulent.

Authorities have cracked down hard on the largely peaceful demonstrations.

IIHF president Rene Fasel said he remained committed to holding the worlds in Belarus after meeting Lukashenko earlier this week in Minsk.

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