Russia, Belarus hockey bans extended; Belarus out of Olympic qualifier

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) extended its ban on Russia and Belarus through the 2024-25 championship season. Belarus will also not take part in the final round of Olympic men’s qualifying this summer.

The IIHF Council made the decision to extend the ban on Russia and Belarus that has been in place since shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, using Belarus as a staging ground.

“The IIHF Council reviewed the current safety risks associated with reincorporating the Russian and the Belarusian national and club teams into IIHF competitions,” according to a press release. “Based on a thorough analysis, the IIHF Council concluded that it is not yet safe to reincorporate the Russian and Belarusian teams back into IIHF competitions.”

The IIHF will decide by May 2025 whether to allow Russia and Belarus to compete in the 2025-26 season. The next Winter Olympics are in 2026 in Italy.

The IIHF is keeping Russia’s men’s hockey team eligible for the 2026 Winter Olympics in case it lifts its ban.

Even though Russian hockey players’ last international competition was the 2022 Olympics, the nation is still ranked third in the world, which would have been high enough to qualify for the 2026 Winter Games last year.

Teams of Russian men’s players earned gold and silver medals at the last two Olympics. Those teams could not compete under the Russian flag due to the national ban over doping sanctions.

The top six women’s teams in the world ranking after this April’s world championship automatically qualify for the Olympics, along with host nation Italy. The Russian women are currently ranked sixth in the world.

A series of Olympic qualifying tournaments from November to next February determine the final three teams in the women’s field.

Russia’s women played in every Olympics from 2002 through 2022 with a best finish of fourth. They last earned a world championship medal in 2016.

Belarus’ men’s hockey team last played in the Olympics in 2010. Its women have never played in the Olympics.

Last March, the IOC updated its recommendations to international sports federations on athletes from Russia and Belarus, advising that they can return to competition as neutral athletes in individual events only and only if they do not actively support the war in Ukraine.

It was left up to the federations to decide whether to reinstate athletes.

Some summer sports federations have reinstated athletes under those conditions, and they have competed in 2024 Olympic qualifiers.

No winter sports federation has lifted its ban, though Olympic qualifying in individual events is not yet significantly impacted with the Winter Games two years away.

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