A Belarusian sprinter said she was removed from an Olympic event and taken to the airport for a flight home against her wishes on Sunday after making negative remarks about the country’s national team coaches.
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, was scheduled to compete in the 200 meters at the Tokyo Olympics on Monday. She told Reuters she will not return to Belarus, her home country, and sought protection from Japanese police at Tokyo’s Haneda airport so she would not have to board a flight.
It is the latest incident between Belarus, run tightly by president Alexander Lukashenko, and its national team athletes. Last year Olympians were jailed for joining peaceful protesters against Lukashenko’s disputed re-election.
Belarus athlete refuses to fly home
Tsimanouskaya told Reuters the coaching staff came to her room on Sunday and told her to pack. She was then taken to the airport ahead of her scheduled events: 200 meters on Monday and 4×400 meter relay on Thursday.
The Belarusian Olympic Committee (BOC) said in a statement it decided to pull her from the Games on doctor’s advice about “her emotional, psychological state.”
She said her removal was for posting on her Instagram “about the negligence of our coaches.” She had previously complained about her entrance into the relay event, which came after Belarusian teammates were found ineligible to compete. They were among the 20 athletes who did not meet anti-doping testing requirements in the lead-up to the games.
“Some of our girls did not fly here to compete in the 4×400 m 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.”
Reuters said Tsimanouskaya was seen with Japanese police at the airport on Sunday night. A police officer said they were with an Olympic athlete from Belarus at a terminal. She told Reuters she reached out to the Belarusian diaspora in Japan to get her at the airport.
Tsimanouskaya asks IOC to get involved
Tsimanouskaya asked the International Olympic Committee to get involved in the case through a video posted by the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF). The group supports athletes jailed or sidelined for their political views.
The IOC released a short statement on Twitter around midnight Tokyo time.
“The IOC has seen the reports in the media about the Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsymanouskaya,” per the statement. “We are looking into the situation and have asked the NOC (National Olympic Committee) for clarification.”
A source at the foundation said she will plan to request asylum in Germany or Austria on Monday, per Reuters.
IOC previously banned Lukashenko from Games
The IOC opted in December 2020 to ban Lukashenko from attending the Olympics as part of provisional measures. His son, Viktor, who is the first vice president of the BOC, was also banned.
“The IOC has come to the conclusion that it appears that the current leadership has not appropriately protected the Belarussian athletes from political discrimination within the NOC, their member federations or the sports movement,” IOC President Thomas Bach said in December.
“This is contrary to the fundamental principles of the Olympic Charter therefore seriously affecting the reputation of the Olympic movement,” he added, saying the measures were provisional.”
The IOC also froze payments to the nation’s Olympic committee.
Belarus athletes jailed for speaking out
Belarusian athletes were jailed in 2020 for speaking out against the administration. Lukashenko has been in charge since 1994 and has faced significant concern over rigged elections each go-around.
That included last year, leading into the largest wave of demonstrations in the country since the collapse of the Soviet Union, of which it’s a former state. The European Union and United States denounced the election as neither free nor fair and introduced sanctions.
The president has denied allegations of rigging votes and cracked down on protestors. Former WNBA player and Olympian Yelena Leuchanka was jailed for 15 days in October while peacefully protesting. She described horrifying conditions while in jail during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Upon release she was immediately arrested again, but this time she faced fines. And later, after arrival in Greece, she found she tested positive for the coronavirus.
Earlier this year, behind a strong push from Belarus athletes and the BSSF, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) stripped Belarus of co-hosting the 2021 men’s ice hockey world championships.
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