Czech carmaker Skoda Auto says it will not sponsor this year's ice hockey world championship if the event is held in Belarus, where the authorities have responded to months of peaceful protests with a violent crackdown.
"We've been a proud partner for 28 years. But we also respect & promote all human rights," Volkswagen's Skoda Auto said in a tweet on January 16.
"Therefore, SKODA will withdraw from sponsoring the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship if Belarus is confirmed to be co-hosting the event," it added.
Belarus, which is due to cohost the tournament in May-June with Latvia, is facing calls for it to be stripped of the event because of strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s ongoing crackdown on protesters who dispute the August 2020 election that kept him in power.
Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said earlier he could not imagine the competition taking place in Belarus, saying that would "legitimize a repressive regime.”
Many European countries, including Latvia, have been calling for the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to cancel Minsk’s involvement over the violent crackdown, as well as fears that Lukashenka's government has failed to control the coronavirus pandemic and is underreporting cases and deaths.
The 2020 tournament in Switzerland was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, the head of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), Rene Fasel, deplored the “negative reaction" to his meeting with Lukashenka in Minsk, saying it wasn't a sign of support for the authoritarian president's violent crackdown on demonstrators.
More than 57,000 people have signed an online petition against holding the 2021 ice hockey world championships in the Belarusian capital.
Belarusian protests are demanding the 66-year-old Lukashenka, who has been in power for 26 years, step down following the disputed presidential election on August 9.
On January 16, a group of about 20 feminists held a flash mob in Minsk in which they denounced the violence against protesters and called for the release of all political prisoners.
Nearly 30,000 people have been detained, with hundreds reportedly tortured in detention and beaten on the streets in the postelection crackdown by the government.