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Belarus Olympic Athlete ‘Safe’, under Police Protection

Belarus Olympic Athlete ‘Safe’, under Police Protection

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya has said she is “safe” and under police protection in Japan after claiming she had been removed from the national team and taken to Tokyo airport against her wishes to be flown home over her criticism of national coaches.

“I am safe and they are in the process of deciding where I am going to spend the night,” Timanovskaya said in a statement on Telegram published on Sunday by the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF), an organisation that supports opposition athletes.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo Games organisers said they had spoken with Timanovskaya on Sunday.

“She is with the authorities at Haneda airport and is currently accompanied by a staff member of Tokyo 2020. She has told us that she feels safe,” the IOC said.

Al Jazeera’s Andy Richardson, reporting from Tokyo, said that the athlete spent the night at an airport hotel in a safe and secure environment.

“The IOC and Tokyo 2020 will continue their conversations with her and the Japanese authorities to determine the next step in the upcoming days,” he said. “The main point is she’s not left Tokyo, she’s still in Japan.”

Both Poland and the Czech Republic offered their help on Monday.

Polish foreign ministry official Marcin Przydacz wrote on Twitter that Tsimanouskaya has been “offered a humanitarian visa and is free to pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses”.

Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek said he considered the situation around the Belarusian “scandalous”.

“The Czech Republic is ready to help,” he tweeted. “We are offering her a visa to enter the territory so that she can apply for international protection with us. Our embassy in Tokyo is also ready to help.”

Earlier on Sunday, Tsimanouskaya had called on the IOC for assistance.

“There is pressure against me. They are trying to get me out of the country without my permission. I am asking the IOC to get involved,” Tsimanouskaya said in a video posted on the BSSF’s Telegram channel.

Tsimanouskaya was due to compete in the women’s 200 metres on Monday. Tsimanouskaya, 24, said the coaching staff had come to her room on Sunday and told her to pack up. She was taken to the city’s Haneda airport before she could run in the 200 metres and 4×400 metres relay on Thursday.

She said she had been removed from the team due “to the fact that I spoke on my Instagram about the negligence of our coaches”.

The Belarusian Olympic Committee said in a statement that coaches had decided to withdraw Tsimanouskaya from the games on doctors’ advice about her “emotional, psychological state”.

Tsimanouskaya had previously complained she was entered in the 4×400 metres relay after some members of the team were found to be ineligible to compete at the Olympics because they had not undergone doping tests properly.

“Some of our girls did not fly here to compete in the 4x400m relay because they didn’t have enough doping tests,” Tsimanouskaya told Reuters news agency from the airport.

“And the coach added me to the relay without my knowledge. I spoke about this publicly. The head coach came over to me and said there had been an order from above to remove me.”

Aliaksandra Herasimenia, former Belarusian Olympic swimmer and opposition activist, told Al Jazeera: “I would say this is a blatant injustice and an unprecedented violation of human rights and sports rules. They tried to take an athlete out of the Olympic village and deport them from the country just because of their opinion and position.”

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has kept a tight grip on Belarus, a former Soviet state, since 1994.

Faced with mass street protests last year over what his opponents called rigged elections, he ordered a violent crackdown on protesters. Lukashenko denies the allegations of vote-rigging.

Unusually in a country where elite athletes often rely on government funding, some prominent Belarusian athletes joined the protests. Several were jailed, including Olympic basketball player Yelena Leuchanka and decathlete Andrei Krauchanka.

Others lost their state employment or were kicked off national teams for supporting the opposition.

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