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10 Sep, 2021 12:36

Ice hockey chief given 5yr ban for threats, discrimination against athletes who politically oppose Belarusian president Lukashenko

Ice hockey chief given 5yr ban for threats, discrimination against athletes who politically oppose Belarusian president Lukashenko

The head of the Belarusian Ice Hockey Federation has been banned for five years by the sport's governing body, with a 10-month investigation ruling that he threatened athletes and abused his position to back Alexander Lukashenko.

A day after the first anniversary of his appointment as chairman of the Ice Hockey Federation of Belarus (FHB), the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has suspended Dmitry Baskov from all national and international hockey events after finding him guilty of violating several of their codes during his brief tenure.

Baskov's transgressions including attempts to directly influence others to support the Belarusian authorities, threatening and discriminating against athletes because of their political beliefs and acting improperly in support of the president, who has been in control since 1994.

Part of the investigation examined a report from the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation (BSSF), which supports athletes who have been targeted for political reasons, alleging that Baskov had been involved in an incident that led to the brutal death of Roman Bondarenko, a Belarusian citizen who had taken part in a protest against Lukashenko's government on a square in Minsk.

The federation commissioned an independent investigation and used media reports, audio recordings and photographs to assess whether Baskov was involved, with the firm employed concluding that Baskov's presence at the scene "cannot be ruled out".

No evidence was found that Baskov actively participated in the attack on Bondarenko, who was said to have been kidnapped in a van and later died of his injuries after being taken to hospital.

The firm found that Baskov is an ardent supporter of Lukashenko and took part in political rallies supporting the leader in 2020, writing an open letter criticizing athletes who support the opposition movement in June of that year.

As a figurehead for the IHB, member of Belarus's National Olympic Committee (NOC) and head of the supervisory council of Dinamo Minsk, Baskov is bound by the Fundamental Principles of the Olympic Charter, which include a stipulation that sports organizations must remain political neutrality.

The independent investigation and the BSSF both said that Baskov has close personal ties to Lukashenko and an association with the president through hockey via his two sons.

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The FHB, which is said to be considering an appeal in the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the ruling, called the IIHF's position "unacceptable".

"We believe that this decision is due to the ever-increasing pressure on the IIHF by political forces," it said in a statement, claiming that the "facts" of the "alleged violations" had been based on "reports from a number of foreign organizations and individuals."

"His election to the post of chairman of the national hockey federation by the Belarusian hockey community was legitimate and in line with the FHB statutes, and the members of the election conference expressed their unanimous and unconditional confidence in Baskov as head of the FHB.

"At the moment, the functionary will continue to work on the development of hockey in the Republic of Belarus in his post as chairman of the Ice Hockey Federation of Belarus.

"At the same time, the FHB appreciates the work carried out by the IIHF Disciplinary Board on a comprehensive investigation of the incidents related to Baskov and the decision of the international organization that there is no evidence of the functionary's involvement in the incident that took place in Minsk on November 11, 2020."

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The International Olympic Committee Executive Board ruled in December that the NOC did not adequately protect Belarusian athletes from internal political discrimination.

The committee refused to recognize Lukashenko as president of the NOC and Baskov as a member of the NOC Executive Committee.

The IIHF said that neither the FHB nor the Belarusian national ice hockey team would be suspended from events.

"However, we expect our national member associations to comply with the IIHF Statutes and Regulations, including disciplinary decisions of this kind," it added.

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