3 August 2015, Monday, 9:39

Human rights or hockey glory?

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Canada discusses a possible boycott of the 2014 Ice Hockey World Championship.

Canada’s obsession with hockey and its record as a champion of human rights are set to collide. It will happen in May 2014, when the Belarusian authorities plan to host the IIHF world championship, The Vancouver Sun writes.

“Known as the last dictatorship in Europe, the Belarusian government has been repeatedly criticized and sanctioned by Canada and other countries for rampant human rights abuses, rigged elections and flagrant disregard for democratic principles,” Lee Berthiaume wrote in an article.

For that reason, pro-democracy groups and Western politicians have called on the world to send a message to Belarus’s hockey-crazy president and boycott next year’s championships.

But with the event playing a key part in deciding whether Team Canada qualifies for the Olympics and other international tournaments, are Canadians willing to stand up for human rights at the risk of hockey glory?

“Belarus is not called the last dictatorship in Europe for no reason,” said David Kramer, president of the Washington-based democracy watchdog Freedom House. “Belarus should not be afforded an opportunity to enjoy the spotlight like the ice hockey championships are going to give it.”

A memo prepared for Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird last year and obtained by Postmedia News says that “in the face of the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, international opposition” to Belarus holding the 2014 International Hockey Championship “is gaining momentum.”

The memo notes US President Barack Obama signed a law on January 3, 2012, which called on the International Ice Hockey Federation “to suspend plans to hold the Championship in Belarus unless political prisoners are released.”

It also said the European Parliament had approved a resolution “to relocate the championship if political prisoners are not released by the regime.”

Most of the rest of the memo to Baird is blacked out, including whatever actions Foreign Affairs staff recommended Canada take.

A Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said the decision whether to participate or not rests with Hockey Canada.

“Canada’s limited engagement policy with Belarus applies to government-to-government contacts,” she said. “It does not govern engagement with Belarus by other Canadian citizens or institutions, such as Hockey Canada.”

Hockey Canada’s Scott Smith says the organization does not take politics into consideration when deciding whether to field a team — which it plans to do so in Belarus.

“We believe it’s in our best interest to separate that from the political environment,” Smith said. “Canada has not entertained the idea of not participating in any world championship.”

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