Track and Field

Belarusian sprinter asks IOC for help after she says she was taken to airport against her wishes

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Sunday to get involved in her case after saying she had been removed from the national team and taken to Tokyo airport against her wishes over her criticism of national coaches.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who was due to compete in women's 200 metres, says she won't return to Belarus

Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya stands surrounded by police officers at Haneda international airport in Tokyo on Sunday. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Sunday to get involved in her case after saying she had been removed from the national team and taken to Tokyo airport against her wishes over her criticism of national coaches.

Tsimanouskaya, 24, was still at Tokyo's Haneda airport in the early hours of Monday local time.

"I am asking the International Olympic Committee for help," Tsimanouskaya said in a video posted on the Telegram channel of the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, a group that supports athletes jailed or sidelined for their political views.

"There is pressure against me. They are trying to get me out of the country without my permission. I am asking the IOC to get involved."

The IOC said it had spoken to Tsimanouskaya and that she was accompanied by a Tokyo 2020 organizer at the airport.

"She has told us she feels safe," the IOC said in a tweet. It added the IOC and Tokyo 2020 would continue their conversations with Tsimanouskaya and the authorities "to determine the next steps in the upcoming days."

Tsimanouskaya ran in the women's 100-metre heats on Friday and was scheduled to run in the 200 metre heats on Monday, along with the 4x400-metre relay on Thursday.

Earlier, Tsimanouskaya told Reuters she did not plan to return to her country and 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," she told Reuters in a message over Telegram.

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." It did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

Tsimanouskaya said coaching staff had come to her room on Sunday and told her to pack. She said she was taken to the airport by representatives of the Belarusian Olympic team.

She said she had been removed from the team due "to the fact that I spoke on my Instagram about the negligence of our coaches."

Added to relay unexpectedly

Tsimanouskaya had previously complained she was entered in the 4x400m relay after some members of the team were found to be ineligible to compete at the Olympics because they had not undergone a sufficient amount of doping tests.

"Some of our girls did not fly here to compete in the 4x400m 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."

Tsimanouskaya of Belarus holds up her country's flag after the women's 200m final of the 2019 Summer Universiade on July 11, 2019, in Naples, Italy. (Ivan Romano/Getty Images)

A Reuters photographer witnessed the athlete standing next to Japanese police.

"I think I am safe," she said. "I am with the police."

A police officer at Haneda airport said they were with a female Olympic athlete from Belarus at Terminal 3.

A source at the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation said Tsimanouskaya planned to request asylum in Germany or Austria on Monday.

WATCH | Belarus opposition leader calls on Western powers to put more pressure on Lukashenko:

Belarus opposition leader calls on western powers to put more pressure on Lukashenko

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Belarus' exiled opposition leader, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, says the diversion of the flight was a direct result of western democracies like Canada, not taking strong actions against President Alexander Lukashenko sooner. 5:47

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya urged the IOC to take up the athlete's case.

"Grateful to #IOC for the quick reaction to the situation with the Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsymanouskaya. She has a right to international protection & to continue participation in the @Olympics," Tikhanovskaya tweeted.

"It is also crucial to investigate Belarus' NOC violations of athletes' rights."

Vitaliy Utkin, a member of the Belarusian parliament, criticized Tsimanouskaya's behavior.
 
"It is betrayal and treachery, which was directed towards the Belarusian people and her fellow athletes," state-owned broadcaster STV cited Utkin as saying.

Lukashenko maintains tight grip on country

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has kept a tight grip on Belarus, a former Soviet state, since 1994. Faced with mass street protests last year over what his opponents called rigged elections, he ordered a violent crackdown on protesters. Lukashenko denies the allegations of vote-rigging.

Lukashenko's son, Viktor Lukashenko, is president of the Belarus Olympic Committee.

Unusually in a country where elite athletes often rely on government funding, some prominent Belarusian athletes joined the protests. Several were jailed, including Olympic basketball player Yelena Leuchanka and decathlete Andrei Krauchanka.

Others lost their state employment or were kicked off national teams for supporting the opposition.

During the Cold War, scores of sports people and cultural figures defected from the Soviet Union and its satellite states during overseas competitions or tours. But the freedom of travel that came with the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union saw the need for such dramatic acts dwindle.

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