MINSK, Belarus (AP) — The top ice hockey official in Belarus has stepped down after he was banned for five years for threatening players over their political beliefs.
The Belarus hockey federation had initially signaled Dmitri Baskov could stay on as president in defiance of Wednesday’s ban, but he told state TV on Friday he was stepping aside to avoid possible further sanctions against the federation if he stayed.
The International Ice Hockey Federation ruled Baskov “abused his position” by trying to influence others to back authoritarian Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. Its investigation found evidence he “threatened and discriminated Belarusian athletes because of their political opinion.”
The IIHF previously removed Belarus as host of this year’s men’s world championships after a backlash from sponsors.
Belarus has been in turmoil for more than a year since longtime president Lukashenko, who is a passionate hockey fan, was re-elected in a vote widely seen as rigged and which led to a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
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