© Reuters. Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is escorted by police officers at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, Japan, on August 1, 2021. REUTERS / Issei Kato
By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
TOKYO (Reuters) – A Belarusian sprinter said she planned to avoid taking a plane home from Tokyo after she was taken to the airport against her wishes on Sunday following her complaints about national coaches at the Olympics.
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who was scheduled to compete in the women’s 200 meters on Monday, told Reuters that she had sought the protection of Japanese police at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport so she would not have to board the flight.
“I will not return to Belarus,” he told Reuters in a Telegram message.
Tsimanouskaya, 24, said the training staff had come to her room on Sunday and told her to pack her bags. He said that she was taken to the airport by representatives of the Belarusian Olympic team.
The Belarusian Olympic Committee said in a statement that the coaches had decided to withdraw Tsimanouskaya from the Games on the advice of doctors about his “emotional and psychological state”. The committee did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.
The International Olympic Committee said it had spoken with Tsimanouskaya and was accompanied by a Tokyo 2020 organizer at the airport.
“She has told us that she feels safe,” the IOC said in a tweet. He added that the IOC and Tokyo 2020 will continue their talks with Tsimanouskaya and the authorities “to determine the next steps in the coming days.”
Earlier, a Reuters photographer spotted the athlete standing next to police at the airport. “I think I’m safe,” Tsimanouskaya said. “I’m with the police.”
In a video previously posted on Telegram by the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation, Tsimanouskaya had asked the IOC to get involved in her case.
A source from the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation, which supports athletes imprisoned or marginalized for their political views, said Tsimanouskaya planned to apply for asylum in Germany or Austria on Monday.
Belarus, a former Soviet state, is under the strict control of President Alexander Lukashenko. In power since 1994, he faced a wave of protests last year, joined by some athletes.
COACHES ” NEGLIGENCE ”
Tsimanouskaya ran in the women’s 100-meter heats on Friday and was scheduled to run in the 200-meter heats on Monday, along with the 4×400-meter relay on Thursday.
She said she had been removed from the team “because of the fact that I spoke on my Instagram about the negligence of our coaches.”
Tsimanouskaya had complained on Instagram that she was enrolled in the 4x400m relay after some team members were found to be ineligible to compete in the Olympics because they had not undergone a sufficient number of doping tests.
“Some of our girls did not fly here to compete in the 4x400m relay because they didn’t have enough doping controls,” Tsimanouskaya told Reuters from the airport.
“And the coach added me to the relief without my knowledge. I spoke about this publicly. The head coach approached me and said there was an order from above to remove me.”
Tsimanouskaya added that she had approached members of the Belarusian diaspora in Japan to retrieve her at the airport.
Belarusian opposition leader in exile, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, urged the IOC to take up the athlete’s case.
“Grateful to #IOC for the quick reaction to the situation with Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsymanouskaya. She is entitled to international protection and to continue participating in the @Olympics,” Tsikhanouskaya tweeted.
“It is also crucial to investigate violations of athletes’ rights by NOCs in Belarus.”
President Lukashenko faced massive street protests last year over what his opponents called rigged elections and ordered a violent crackdown on protesters. Lukashenko denies the allegations of vote rigging.
Typically, in a country where elite athletes often depend on government funding, some prominent Belarusian athletes joined the protests. Several were jailed, including Olympic basketball player Yelena Leuchanka https://www.reuters.com/article/us-belarus-election-basketball-idUSKBN27D1QS and decathlete Andrei Krauchanka https://www.reuters.com/article/ us-belarus -election-olympics-idUSKBN28614P.
Others lost their state jobs or were kicked out of national teams for supporting the opposition.
During the Cold War, dozens of sportsmen and cultural figures defected from the Soviet Union and its satellite states during competitions or tours abroad. But the freedom to travel that came with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 saw the need for such dramatic acts diminish.