The 78th edition of the World Hockey Championships is starting in Minsk.
The tournament -- from May 9 to May 25 -- comprises 16 countries and will see reigning world champion Sweden defend its title against powerful contenders including Canada and Russia.
In the opening games on May 9, Russia plays against Switzerland, France against Canada, and the United States against Slovakia.
The games are a first for Belarus, which has built two arenas to host them.
But the choice of Minsk has proved controversial due to the poor human rights record of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
European Parliament lawmakers, led by former National Hockey League star Peter Stastny of Slovakia, have protested that the games will lend legitimacy to the regime.
Belarus is under U.S. and EU sanctions over crackdowns on political and press freedom.
Based on reporting by AP and ITAR-TASS