Skoda's ultimatum played a key role.
German business played a crucial role in depriving Lukashenka's regime of the opportunity to host the Ice Hockey World Championship in May and June. When three German companies, including the general sponsor, refused to finance the championship if it was held in Belarus, the decision to move the venue of the World Championship 2021, adopted by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) on January 18, became inevitable, reports Deutsche Welle.
Skoda general sponsor delivered an ultimatum
The ultimatum from the championship's general sponsor, Skoda, played the key role. Formally, it is a Czech company. However, it is a wholly-owned subsidiary of German Volkswagen, so the resonant decision on the willingness to boycott the championship could take only in its headquarters.
On Saturday, January 16, Skoda published a short statement on its website. It mentioned that the company is a "staunch supporter" of ice hockey and "has been a proud partner of the IIHF World Championship for 28 years now". At the same time, "we respect and support all existing regulations that serve the protection of human rights, a fundamental principle throughout the world." Finally, there was a warning that if Belarus was one of the hosts of the World Championship (along with Latvia), Skoda would withdraw its sponsorship of the sporting event.
Nivea Men is incompatible with any forms of violence
The day before, January 15, Beiersdorf, a member of the main DAX German stock index, issued a similar ultimatum. It produces cosmetic products, including skincare products under its flagship brand Nivea. The line of such products for men, Nivea Men, has been "supporting the development of professional ice hockey around the world" for 14 years. The joint-stock company's press office pointed out in a written response to journalists' inquiry.
The letter notes the decision to withdraw from the financial support of the World Championship 2021 if Belarus hosts it "was taken based on the current circumstances, making it impossible to host the World Championship in line with the values of our brand. Nivea Men rejects "any form of discrimination and violence".
Liqui Moly condemns apparent human rights violations in Belarus
On Sunday, January 17, following these major and long-standing supporters of the IIHF, German motor oil, car care and auto cosmetics manufacturer Liqui Moly withdraws its World Championship sponsorship. The company initiated its financial support for the World Championships and promoted its brand only in 2017 when the championships were held in Germany and France. It also sponsors hockey clubs in Berlin, Dresden and Frankfurt am Main.
The statement on the website of the company says that it was looking forward to the upcoming World Championship. However, it intends to withdraw from sponsorship if Minsk hosts the World Championship. It explains its decision as follows: "The current situation in Belarus and the policy of its government, especially the treatment of protesters and apparent violations of human rights in
Belarus, go strongly against the values of Liqui Moly."
Answering the journalists' question about whether the sponsors agreed with each other on joint actions, Marco Esser, the company's press secretary, said he had no information about any agreements. Beiersdorf's press office that assured "there was no agreement with other sponsors."
Most likely, the interview with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas published on January 14 served as the key impetus for the German companies to take a particular decision. The prominent representative of the German Social Democrats said that "anyone who takes calls for solidarity with Belarus seriously cannot insist on hosting the championship" in this country, and also called not to make "PR gifts" to Aliaksandr Lukashenka.
Anyway, all three companies clearly explained that they intended to deprive the International Ice Hockey Federation of funding for human rights violations in Belarus. The IIHF itself justified its decision by the impossibility to ensure the safety of the tournament. It should be noted that all three companies - Volkswagen with its Skoda brand, Beiersdorf with its Nivea brand, and Liqui Moly - actively supply their products both to the Belarusian and Russian markets.