Belarus has been stripped of hosting next month's European track cycling championships amid international outrage over the diversion of a passenger jet and the arrest of a journalist and his girlfriend who were taken off the flight after it landed in Minsk.
The European Cycling Union said in a statement on May 27 that in light of the “current international situation,” the organization’s management board “decided to cancel the 2021 Elite Track European Championships scheduled in Minsk (Belarus) from 23 to 27 June 2021.”
Enrico Della Casa, president of the European Cycling Union, said the organization has been monitoring the situation, “which has now developed into an international debate.” The decision to cancel the event in Minsk was made during a management board meeting on May 27, he said.
The organization is now working to find an alternative solution to enable riders from 50 countries to compete, he said.
Lithuania's government made an offer to host the event, Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said on Twitter.
The European Cycling Union replied by saying it would be "delighted to develop your proposition.”
European Union leaders expressed outrage after the Ryanair commercial flight was diverted on May 23.
EU officials and several Western governments have condemned the incident as the state-sponsored hijacking of a commercial flight. European Union foreign ministers are debating possible targets for new economic sanctions against authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has led a crackdown on dissent in the country since a disputed presidential election last August.
Belarus has been in political turmoil since Lukashenka claimed a landslide victory in the election, which the opposition claimed was rigged in his favor.
The cycling organization’s decision not to hold its event in Minsk comes after a similar move by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). It decided in January to strip Minsk of the right to co-host the 2021 World Championship with Riga and made the Latvian capital the sole host.
The IIHF cited safety and security issues "beyond its control" amid mounting pressure from European countries and sponsors for Belarus to be stripped of its role as co-host.