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The IIHF has confirmed it is investigating the head of the Belarusian federation over his alleged role in the death of an opposition activist. It says Belarusian authorities have agreed to cooperate in the investigation.
The International Ice Hockey Federation has revoked Belarus' right to co-host the 2021 World Championship
The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) says Belarus is cooperating with an investigation by its disciplinary board into Dmitry Baskov, the head of the Belarusian ice hockey federation.
Baskov is accused of being personally involved in the death of Raman Bandarenka, an opposition activist who died from brain injuries in November last year after he was attacked by a masked gang – said by opposition groups to be members of Belarusian security services.
Authorities in Belarus say Bandarenka was intoxicated when he got into a fight with a group of civilians. Last Thursday, the prosecutor general's office announced that it had opened a criminal case into the activist's death. Baskov has declined to comment on the matter.
Although the IIHF began its own investigation into Baskov's alleged role in the attack in December, it has come under criticism from the athlete-led Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) for not making enough progress with the investigation, amid concerns it could be let go entirely.
Responding to a query from DW, the IIHF said it couldn't set a timetable for when its investigation would be completed. However, it said it expected to receive evidence from the Belarusian prosecutor general, "to aid in this investigation."
"Belarus has agreed to cooperate with the IIHF, and to evaluate all relevant witness statements, videos, and other evidence to support the [IIHF's own] investigation," the governing body said. "They have acknowledged the seriousness of these allegations and have pledged to obtain all facts possible."
Asked why Baskov hadn't been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, the IIHF said that its code of conduct only requires a provisional suspension in cases of alleged match-fixing.
This is in contrast to the approach taken by the International Olympic Committee, which has temporarily excluded Baskov, a board member of Belarus's Olympic committee, from all Olympic activity "in view of the specific allegations raised against him."
The IIHF has already had to contend with stripping the country of its hosting duties for this year's Ice Hockey World Championship. It had come under mounting pressure to do so from major sponsors, European politicians and opposition groups including the BSSF, over the violent crackdown on protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Having succeeded in that campaign, the BSSF now wants Baskov banned from ice hockey for life. As well as his alleged role in Bandarenka's death, Baskov – an ally of Lukashenko – is also accused of using his position in the sport for political means, such as dismissing critics and opponents from ice hockey clubs.
Further criticism has come the IIHF's way after Baskov was photographed with its president, Rene Fasel, during the latter's controversial visit to Minsk last month, which preceded the decision to take the World Championship away from Belarus. The IIHF defended the picture, telling DW it was "not unusual" for Baskov to host Fasel given that he remains head of the federation.
In a statement released last week, the BSSF said that Fasel's conduct had "caused a wide public outcry" and showed "disregard for ice hockey's reputation and fundamental sports values."
Questioning whether the IIHF was "duly scrutinizing the case," the group wrote: "The BSSF believes that the IIHF will not undermine its authority as an ice hockey governing body and will conduct the investigation properly. A delay in taking a decision on Mr. Baskov's case may cause a new wave of outrage and resentment towards the IIHF's performance."