Belarusian Olympic athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya received a humanitarian visa from Poland when seeking asylum after she was threatened to return to Minsk for her criticism of the Olympic team officials.
Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz wrote on Twitter on Monday that the Belarusian sprinter was in direct contact with Polish diplomats and had been granted a humanitarian visa to the country, where she is expected to fly later this week. “Poland will do whatever it takes to help her continue her sports career,” Przydacz wrote.
On Monday, Tsimanouskaya’s husband, Arseniy Zdanevich, confirmed to Sky News who had fled the country and was currently in Kiev. “I didn’t think it would get so serious. I made the decision to leave without thinking twice, “he told the television channel.
Tsimanouskaya, 24, was filmed arriving at the Polish embassy in Tokyo on Monday, where she is said to be seeking refuge from pressure from officials to return to Belarus. Dmitry Navosha, a sports journalist from Belarus and a member of the BSSF, said he would buy a plane ticket to Warsaw by the end of this week.
“She has already applied for political asylum in Poland,” Alexander Opeikin, acting director of BSSF, told Russian-language broadcaster Current Time. “She is fine. She is handling it well, it is clear that this is a stressful situation not only for an athlete but for anyone under this kind of pressure. This is a young woman pressured by experienced officials.”
The asylum claim came hours after Tsimanouskaya was abruptly pulled from the competition after criticizing her coaches for “negligence.” She wrote on Instagram that they had failed to secure the necessary doping tests for her fellow athletes and then entered her from behind. [her] again ”in the 4x400m relay.
On Sunday, team officials abruptly pulled her out of the competition and took her to the airport. But Tsimanouskaya refused to board the flight back to Minsk and sought police protection, indicating that he would likely seek asylum in the west.
The incident shows how Alexander Lukashenko’s increasingly strict control over Belarusian society has spread to the world of sport, where dozens of athletes have faced jail time or retaliation for even careful criticism of the government. The dramatic events are also reminiscent of the high-profile defections of Soviet athletes from international competitions during the cold war, although there is nothing to suggest that Tsimanouskaya did not plan to return to Belarus after the Games.
The leaked audio appears to show a Belarusian team coach and a member of the Belarusian delegation threatening Tsimanouskaya with retaliation if he did not return to Belarus immediately.
“If you want to compete for Belarus again, listen to what I recommend: go home, to your parents, wherever,” said a voice reportedly belonging to a member of the Belarusian delegation. “Let go of this situation. Otherwise, the more you fight, it will be like a fly caught in a web – the more it spins, the more it becomes entangled. “
Tsimanouskaya could not immediately be reached for comment or to confirm the leaked audio.
But his decision to apply for asylum was also confirmed by Navosha, a member of the BSSF and a prominent member of the Belarusian diaspora in Moscow.
“She is under great stress,” Navosha said. “These have been very hard days … it has been hit by a very strong propaganda in Belarus, it receives messages, it has been aggressively attacked on all state television stations. Her parents called her first and told her not to come home. Something terrible is happening here. We ask you not to return to Belarus. “
Several European countries had offered to host Tsimanouskaya. Poland and the Czech Republic, countries that have been highly critical of the Lukashenko government, had offered asylum and the possibility of continuing to compete in international sport. It is said that he applied for asylum in Germany or Austria. “He spent the night thinking deeply about where to go,” Navosha said. “We understand that most of the countries in Europe were open … but in the end he decided to go to Warsaw.”
On Monday, International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said the IOC and Tokyo 2020 had spoken directly with Tsimanouskaya and that she had spent the night in an airport hotel.
“We were in contact with her last night and this morning and she feels safe and secure,” he said. “Our first duty of care is with her, and that is what we are carrying out. Overnight he went to the police station with someone from Tokyo 2020. And I understand that UNHCR [the UN refugee agency] he is involved and the police are still engaged on this issue. “
When asked about the “kidnapping” allegations, Adams said: “He spoke to the police at the airport. If there is a criminal matter, it is necessary to investigate it, but it is a matter of the police. “
Belarus has closed its borders to most of its citizens seeking to travel abroad. It is unclear how Tsimanouskaya’s husband, Arseniy, managed to leave and travel to Ukraine. Thousands of activists have fled the country in recent months as Belarus’s crackdown has crushed opposition politicians and NGOs while demanding loyalty through the state bureaucracy, including in sport.
As of June, more than 60 athletes, coaches and others involved in the sport had lost their jobs for participating in last year’s protests against the Lukashenko government and electoral fraud, Human Rights Watch reported. More than 20, including a star basketball player, have been among those arrested.