The international ice hockey authorities clarified their position after banning all Russian teams earlier this year
The Russian men’s ice hockey team will return to the sport’s top international division once its current ban has ended, officials at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) have confirmed.
The IIHF suspended Russian and Belarusian teams at all levels from its competitions back in February, following the onset of Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine.
The ban remains in force and is set to see the two countries miss the 2023 Men’s World Championship – a tournament which was due to be held in St. Petersburg next May before being relocated to Latvia and Finland.
IIHF officials had indicated, however, that once the ban on Russia and Belarus was lifted, they would return to the top division of international teams, rather than having to work their way up from a lower tier.
That decision was confirmed in an IIHF statement on Friday.
“As approved at the 2022 IIHF Annual Congress, Russia and Belarus would return to the categories and divisions in which they were originally placed prior to the Council decision,” read the message.
“The men’s senior category with RUS/BLR in the top division would be seeded according to the IIHF Men’s World Ranking, women’s senior and U18 with RUS in the top division, men’s U20 and U18 with RUS/BLR in the top division according to the IIHF Sport Regulations.”
IIHF president Luc Tardif emphasized that the step did not mean an imminent return for Russian and Belarusian teams at international tournaments.
“To be clear, this decision does not indicate a return of the Russian and Belarusian teams to IIHF competition,” said Tardif.
“Congress needed to take this decision so that the IIHF members understand the terms of a future reintegration of these countries into the IIHF program,” he added, noting that the IIHF Council will “continue to monitor” the situation in Ukraine.
Ice hockey has become a particular battleground for sporting sanctions against Russia and any foreign players who continue to be associated with the country.
Officials in Sweden, the Czech Republic, Finland, and Latvia are among the countries to declare that any of their hockey stars who continue to compete for teams in the Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) will no longer be considered for national team selection.
Elsewhere, the North American NHL has severed its business ties in Russia, but has resisted calls from some quarters to ban Russian stars from playing in the league.