The top ice-hockey official in Belarus has stepped down after he was banned by the sport's leading international organization for threatening players over their political beliefs.
Dzmitry Baskau said on September 10 that he was vacating his position to avoid possible further sanctions by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) against Belarus if he stayed.
Baskau called the IIHF's demands "unsubstantiated, harsh pressure."
Following a nine-month investigation, the IIHF on September 8 ruled Baskau "abused his position" by trying to pressure players to back authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka and banned him for five years.
The federation's investigation found evidence he "threatened and discriminated" against Belarusian athletes because of their political opinion.
The IIHF previously removed Belarus as host of this year's men's world championships after a backlash from sponsors.
Several Belarusian athletes, including members of its Olympic team, have spoken out against Lukashenka, an avid hockey fan, following his violent crackdown against protesters.
Lukashenka claims he won the August 2020 presidential election that opposition leaders say was rigged in his favor.
The election results sparked months of mass, peaceful protests that were ruthlessly broken up by police, pushing Western governments to impose sanctions on Lukashenka, his associates, and state-owned companies.