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Tokyo Olympics: Belarus sprinter granted Polish visa

August 1, 2021

A Belarusian sprinter who refused to fly home after she criticized coaches has been granted a humanitarian visa by Poland. She had been staying in a hotel secured by Japanese police.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya standing with Japanese police officers
Tsimanouskaya was seen by a Reuters photographer standing with police at Haneda airport in TokyoImage: REUTERS

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya who refused her team's order to fly home early from the Olympics has been granted a humanitarian visa by Poland.

The 24-year-old is at the Polish embassy in Tokyo where she requested asylum after spending the night secured in a hotel under protection from Japanese police.

She was removed after she criticized sports officials, according to an NGO that supports athletes in conflict with Belarus' authoritarian regime.

The athlete had objected publicly to being entered into the women's 400m relay at the Games by Belarus' athletics federation without prior notice. She said she had never raced in the event before.

Polish Foreign Ministry official Marcin Przydacz said that she plans to leave for Poland in the coming days.

"Poland will do whatever is necessary to help her to continue her sporting career," Przydacz said on Twitter. 

The Czech Republic had also offered Tsimanouskaya protection. 

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya holding the Berlarusian flag
Tsimanouskaya, seen here in Italy in 2019, was due to run in the 200-meter sprintImage: Zheng Huansong/ Photoshot/picture alliance

Coaching staff order Tsimanouskaya to pack

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

But she refused to board the flight, telling news agency Reuters in a message over Telegram: "I will not return to Belarus."

Tsimanouskaya asked Japanese police at Tokyo's Haneda Airport to give her protection.

She also appeared in a video posted on the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation's (BSSF) website, asking the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to help her.

"I am under pressure and they are trying to take me out of the country without my consent. I ask the International Olympic Committee to interfere," Tsimanouskaya said in the video.

Exiled opposition leader speaks out

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter that the Olympic runner "was forced by the regime" to leave the Games and that the athlete was "afraid to come back to Minsk."

"No athlete should be forced this way," Tsikhanouskaya added.

Tsimanouskaya's remarks on Instagram

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

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."

Tsimanouskaya had complained on Instagram that she was entered in the 4x400 meter relay after some team members were unable to compete.

"Some of our girls did not fly here to compete in the 4x400m relay because they didn't have enough doping tests," Tsimanouskaya told news agency 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," she said.

Official denial

The head of the Belarus athletics team in Tokyo, Yuri Moisevich, told state-owned broadcaster STV the decision had been taken to make changes to the relay team, but they did not announce it immediately so as not to disrupt the athletes' preparation.

"We intended to tell her everything, to explain it, especially as she was a reserve," Moisevich said.

The Belarusian Olympic Committee also said in a statement that Tsimanouskaya had left the competition on medical advice. It cited problems with her "emotional and psychological state." 

The IOC has asked Belarus National Olympic Committee for a full response.

The BSSF quoted Tsimanouskaya as denying that she was even examined by doctors.

Belarus must 'respect basic democratic rights'

Germany called on Belarus to "respect basic democratic rights, including freedom of the media, freedom of the press and freedom of expression." "This applies to every citizen of Belarus and, of course, to sportsmen and sportswomen," German Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Adebahr said. 

Belarusian authorities have clamped down hard on dissent in the country following heavily disputed August elections won by long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko. 

fb, kmm, tj/nm (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)