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Russia, Belarus hockey bans extended, may impact 2026 Olympic qualifying

Russia Hockey

BEIJING, CHINA - FEBRUARY 09: Alexander Nikishin, Arseni Gritsyuk, Kirill Semyonov, Anton Slepyshev and Nikita Nesterov of Russia react after scoring the opening goal in the first period during the Men’s Preliminary Round Group B match between ROC and Switzerland on Day 5 of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at National Indoor Stadium on February 09, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

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The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) will move forward with its 2024 championship season without Russia and Belarus, whose national teams have been banned since February 2022 for the war in Ukraine.

The IIHF announced the decision after a council meeting Wednesday, saying “it is not safe yet” to reinstate Russia and Belarus. IIHF President Luc Tardif said “the next reevaluation” will be in March 2024.

Not only are those nations excluded from the men’s and women’s world championship tournaments taking place later this spring, but now the IIHF is also planning its 2024 World Championships without them.

The statuses of Russia and Belarus in 2024 may have an impact on those nations’ ability to qualify teams for the 2026 Winter Olympics. Tardif said an Olympic qualification round starts in summer 2024. Full Olympic hockey qualification procedures have not been published.

In 2018 and 2022, Russia’s men and women qualified for the Olympics via world rankings two or three years before the Games. The cutoff was between fifth and eighth place depending on the year and gender.

Russia’s men’s and women’s teams are currently ranked third and fifth, respectively, but will presumably fall in the rankings by not competing in this year’s worlds.

For the last 2022 Olympic spots given outside of world rankings, qualification tournaments were held starting three years before the Games. Higher-ranked teams were given byes into the final rounds, which were held two years before the Games for men and one year before the Games for women.

Last September, the IIHF announced that Russia and Belarus, when reinstated, will return to the categories and divisions in which they were originally placed prior to the suspension.

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.

Russia’s women played in every Olympics from 2002 through 2022 without any medals. 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.

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