European Track Championships cancelled after ‘hijacking’ of Ryanair flight in Belarus

The European Championships were the last major event before the Tokyo Olympics

The 2019 European Games in Minsk
(Image credit: SERGEI GAPON/AFP via Getty Images)

The European Track Championships have been cancelled after a Ryanair flight was “hijacked” in Belarus.

On Thursday (May 29), the Union Européenne de Cyclisme (UEC) announced that the Elite Track European Championships in the Belarusian capital Minsk would not go ahead, due to an international incident earlier this week.

There have been a number of concerns around travel safety in Belarus, after flight from Greece to Lithuania was forced to land on Sunday, May 23, after being diverted by a Belarusian fighter jet.

The flight is believed to have been intercepted by the Belarusian government in order for authorities to arrest dissident blogger Roman Protesevich, who had been critical of the regime run by authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko.

After the incident, airlines have been warned to avoid flying through Belarusian airspace, while further sanctions are being considered against the Belarusian administration. 

On Thursday, the UEC’s management board met to decide the fate of the Euros, eventually choosing to cancel the games. 

UEC president Enrico Della Casa said: “We have recently been monitoring the situation with the Belarus Cycling Federation which has now developed into an international debate and today during the management board meeting, we have decided to cancel the event in Minsk. I would like to thank the Belarus Cycling Federation and its president and management board member, Natallia Tsylinskaya, who has worked with great dedication to help prepare the event and for the important initiatives planned to develop the sport of cycling in Belarus with a programme of additional activities during the European Championships. 

“We are already working on finding an alternative solution to enable the riders from our 50 National Federations to compete in this season’s continental event.”

The Euros, scheduled for June 23-27, were set to be the last major championship before the Tokyo Olympics get underway in July.

Despite the frustration of losing another key preparation event, British Cycling has welcomed the decision to cancel the competition.

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Performance director Stephen Park said: “While it’s disappointing to lose another race from an already disrupted calendar, I do commend and support the decision made by the UEC to cancel the European Track Championships scheduled to take place in Belarus.

“We will support the UEC with finding another venue for the European Championships, but we have a responsibility to act in the best interests of the riders and the team as a whole. The constantly changing Covid restrictions on an international level have created additional logistical and financial challenges for every National Federation, therefore we need to be realistic about what is possible and practical before Tokyo. While we work hard to create race opportunities for our riders, our focus needs to be on ensuring the team are excellently prepared for the forthcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games.”