On Sunday, a Belarusian sprinter at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was taken to the airport against her will to be sent back to her home country. The Olympian recently spoke out against her national team coaches and feared for her safety if she returned to Belarus.
Sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya shared a video message on social media saying Belarus team officials pressured her to leave Japan. On Monday, she’s due to run in the women’s 200-meter race, but team officials pulled her from all events. In a statement, the Belarusian Olympic Committee said Tsimanouskaya’s coaches withdrew her from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. They claimed it was on doctors’ advice, citing her “emotional, psychological state.”
Yet there seems to be much more to the story. While at the airport, she contacted Japanese police for protection so Belarus officials couldn’t force her to board her flight. A dispute between herself and team officials led to a standoff on Sunday at Haneda Airport in Tokyo.
A Japanese police officer at Haneda Airport confirmed they were with a Belarusian athlete at Terminal 3. A Reuters photographer also confirmed that they saw Tsimanouskaya with the officer, according to an ESPN article.
“I think I am safe,” she said, according to ESPN. “I am with the police.”
Evidently, she contacted the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation for help as well. The activist group supports athletes who are jailed or suspended for their political viewpoints. A source with the foundation says the Olympian is seeking asylum in Germany or Austria.
Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation spokesman Alexander Opeikin said they transported Tsimanouskaya “to a safe place.” He added that she will now be in contact with European diplomats about her next steps.
IOC Looking Into the Belarusian Dispute at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics
The Belarusian sprinter recently criticized team officials on her Instagram account. She had never competed in the upcoming 4×400 relay, and complained about her inclusion in the event.
Tsimanouskaya spoke out saying officials removed her from the team. She said it was due “to the fact that I spoke on my Instagram about the negligence of our coaches.”
“Some of our girls did not fly here to compete in the 4×400 meters relay because they didn’t have enough doping tests,” Tsimanouskaya told Reuters 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.”
In addition, the Olympian requested that the International Olympic Committee look into her case. The IOC confirmed their involvement, according to ESPN, and claimed they have intervened.
“The IOC is looking into the situation and has asked the NOC for clarification,” they said in a statement. IOC officials are looking for further clarification from Belarus officials at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics about the ongoing dispute.
The Belarus National Olympic Committee is led by authoritarian state president Alexander Lukashenko and his son, Viktor. The pair have ruled over the committee for more than 25 years. The former Soviet state has met mass protests in the last year with violent crackdowns. So Tsimanouskaya’s concerns seem to be justified.
If Germany or Austria doesn’t grant Tsimanouskaya asylum, she has another option on the table. Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz tweeted that Tsimanouskaya has been offered a “humanitarian visa and is free to pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses.”