Ice hockey - KHL game between Finns Jokerit and Dinamo Minsk cancelled amid fan protests

HELSINKI (Reuters) - The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) game between Finnish club Jokerit and Belarus’s Dinamo Minsk scheduled for Thursday has been cancelled, the league said, amid fan protests in Finland because of the political crisis in Belarus.

The KHL awarded Jokerit a technical defeat for having failed to travel to Minsk. The league said earlier on Thursday it would provide the reasons for Jokerit’s absence at a later time.

Prior to the KHL announcement, sources told Finnish news agency STT that Jokerit’s flight to Minsk had been cancelled and that the team would not be playing.

Finnish hockey website Jatkoaika said the team had refrained from travelling to Belarus after players received numerous death threats from there, causing them to fear for their safety. Reuters could not independently confirm the report.

The Belarusian Sports Ministry said it was not aware Jokerit had received any threats, the Interfax news agency reported.

The cancellation of the game follows widespread criticism in Finland against the team’s participation amid continued protests in Belarus over a presidential election last month that demonstrators say was rigged.

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, who is facing the biggest challenge of his 26-year rule after claiming victory in an Aug. 9 election, has denied electoral fraud.

Jokerit were not immediately available for comment when contacted by Reuters.

The team’s fan club threatened on Wednesday to boycott matches if Jokerit travelled to Belarus.

Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris