Belarus sprinter Kristina Tsimanouskaya seeking asylum in Poland, say activists

Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation says they were contacted to help sprinter after claiming she was being forced to leave Tokyo and return to Minsk against her will

An activist group assisting a Belarusian athlete who claims she was forced to a Tokyo airport by her country's Olympic officials with the intention of sending her home against her wishes say she is seeking asylum in Poland.

Krystsina Timanovskaya, 24, was pictured entering the Polish embassy in Tokyo on Monday after arriving in an unmarked silver van. She spent the night in a secure facility after refusing to board a plane bound for Minsk. Timanovskaya says she was taken to Haneda airport by her team after criticising her coaches.

Vadim Krivosheyev of the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation told the Associated Press that the group has bought Tsimanouskaya a ticket to Warsaw for August 4 after she contacted them for help to avoid what she feared was a forced deportation to Minsk.

BSSF said the athlete believed her life would be in danger if she returned to Belarus after she criticised her team officials.

Marcin Przydacz, an official at the Polish foreign ministry, said earlier that Timanovskaya had been "offered a humanitarian visa".

Tsimanouskaya has said in video messages published on Telegram by the BSSF that representatives of her country’s Olympic committee had tried to remove her from the Games and put her on a plane to Minsk after she criticised her coaches for "negligence".

In one video, Tsimanouskaya asks for the International Olympic Committee to intervene. The IOC had confirmed earlier on Monday that it had spoken to Tsimanouskaya and that she had been accompanied at the airport by a Tokyo 2020 staff member to assist with Japanese police.

"I am asking the International Olympic Committee for help, I have been pressured and they are trying to take me out of the country without my consent, so I am asking the IOC to intervene.

“They [Belarus Olympic Committee officials] didn’t explain me anything. I was just told to pack my things. They bought me a ticket and escorted to the airport”.

IOC presidential spokesperson Mark Adams said on Monday that Tsimanouskaya had spent Sunday night at Haneda Airport and added: “She feels safe and secure".

“The IOC and Tokyo 2020 will continue our discussions with her and understand what the next steps will be and what she wants to pursue.”

Tsimanouskaya competed in the 100 metres heats and had been due to enter the 200m heats on Monday, along with the 4x400 metres relay on Thursday.

Tsimanouskaya complained on Instagram that she had no knowledge that she was added to the relay team after some members were found to be ineligible to compete at the Olympics because they had not undergone a sufficient amount of doping tests.

Adams added: “We are listening to her, supporting her and making sure she gets what she wants. We have been told she is happy.”

The incident has led to calls for the Belarusian Olympic Committee to be suspended. Its president Viktor Lukashenko, and his father Alexander who is the president of the former Soviet republic, were both barred from the Tokyo Games by the IOC earlier this year amid allegations that Belarusian athletes were being discriminated against on political grounds.

Vitaliy Utkin, a member of the Belarusian parliament, criticised Tsimanouskaya's behaviour. "It is betrayal and treachery, which was directed towards the Belarusian people and her fellow athletes," STV cited Utkin as saying.

In an earlier interview with Tribuna.com, Tsimanouskaya said she was "not afraid" of being kicked out of the Olympics by her national committee but feared being imprisoned if she returned to Belarus, saying the order to have her escorted out of Tokyo came "from the very top.”

Tadeusz Giczan, a prominent Belarusian journalist, tweeted Monday that Tsimanouskaya's husband and child had fled Belarus to Ukraine, saying they were "safe now".

Lukashenko was re-elected as the country’s president in August last year, sparking widespread protests.

Adams said the IOC had requested a full written report on the Tsimanouskaya incident from the Belarusian Olympic Committee.

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".

Updated: August 2nd 2021, 12:21 PM
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