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“No way” Belarus can host European Track Cycling Championships following Ryanair flight forced landing outcry, says GB team boss

European federation decides tomorrow future of event following outcry over forced Ryanair flight diversion

Great Britain Cycling Team performance director Stephen Park has said there is “no way” that Belarus can host the European Track Cycling Championships next month following the outcry over the forced landing in Minsk earlier this week of a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania carrying dissident journalist Roman Protasevich, who was removed from the aircraft and arrested, together with his partner.

The championships, due to take place from 23-27 June have taken on additional significance this year due to the lack of competition top track cyclists have experienced in the build-up to the postponed Tokyo Olympics, which begin in late July, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Writing on Twitter, Park said: “With 27 EU member states telling EU airlines not to fly over Belarus, and promising further economic sanctions there can surely be no way the @UEC_cycling can continue to deliver the Track Euros in Minsk next month.”

Continental governing body the Union Européenne de Cyclisme (UEC) has said that “In light of the recent international events [it] is carefully monitoring the situation,” and that a decision will be made at its management board meeting tomorrow over the event.

It added that no further update would be provided until that meeting has taken place, although essentially it is faced with three choices – to let the event proceed as planned, which looks highly unlikely, to cancel it altogether, or switch it to another country, which given the importance of pre-Olympic competition would presumably be most welcomed by the continent’s major federations.

BDR, the German national cycling federation, informed the UEC yesterday that it would not be participating in the event as a result of what the EU has described as an “attack on European sovereignty.”

The Dutch national federation, the KNWU, has not yet formally withdrawn from the championships, but its head yesterday advised its athletes not to travel to Minsk, reports NL Times.

The governing body’s chair, Thorwald Veneberg, speaking on the radio show Langs de Lijn En Omreken, said: “For us, the importance of sport matters. But it should not be an expedition, especially if there are all kinds of consequences that we cannot foresee. Then you should not take the risk.

“We are really heading for a major political crisis,” he continued. “I wouldn't want to go there anyway, but there are athletes who say: there are so few competitions, I still have to prepare for the Olympics. My advice is not to do that." he added.

Despite the saying that “sport and politics shouldn’t mix,” the fact is that they very often do, and Park was asked on Twitter about whether GB cyclists should compete in upcoming events elsewhere.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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