Tokyo Olympics Updates
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A Belarusian sprinter at the Tokyo Olympics has sought refuge at the Polish embassy in Japan after she claimed she was taken to the airport against her will after criticizing her country’s coaches.
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who previously said on social media that she was registered for the 4×400 relay even though she has never participated in the event, has applied for and received a humanitarian visa, Polish officials said.
“According to her words, she plans to come to Poland and was invited by us,” Marcin Przydacz, Poland’s deputy foreign minister, told the The Washington City Times.
Tsimanouskaya, who was scheduled to compete in the women’s 200m heats on Monday, stayed at a hotel at Tokyo’s Haneda airport on Sunday after seeking “protection” from local authorities.
Alexander Lukashenko, the ruthless leader of Belarus, has been roundly criticized after he fraudulently claimed victory in last year’s presidential election and launched a campaign to repress protesters and supporters of his rival.
The IOC banned Lukashenko from attending the Tokyo Games along with other national officials, including his son Viktor, chairman of the country’s Olympic Committee.
The sanctions were imposed after Belarusian athletes accused authorities of political discrimination and jail time. The IOC has also frozen payments to the Belarusian Olympic Committee other than those paid directly to athletes.
Although Tsimanouskaya has not directly criticized Lukashenko, Belarusian media have castigated the 24-year-old athlete.
“This scandal did not start out as a political scandal but has become one because of the extremely heavy-handed response to her statements, including brutal attacks on her reputation by Belarusian state media and then the attempt to force her to fly home from Tokyo.” , says Eleanor Bindman, an Eastern European political expert at Manchester Metropolitan University.
The incident “reflects Lukashenko’s paranoia about anything or anyone who could be viewed as critical of his beleaguered regime,” she added.
Tsimanouskaya had previously said she was afraid of being arrested if she returned to Belarus and that she feared for her family back home.
Her husband Arseny Zdanevich has since reportedly left Belarus for Ukraine.
“Where did I go? Kiev, but I won’t give details,” he told Sport Express, a Russian sports portal.
Tsimanouskaya was separately offered a visa by the Czech Republic, which, like Poland, has been one of Lukashenko’s most vocal critics. Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek previously said Tsimanouskaya’s situation was “outrageous”.
Tsimanouskaya had used her social media accounts to criticize coaches who signed her up for events she hadn’t trained for because other Belarusian athletes hadn’t passed enough anti-doping tests to compete.
Katsunobu Kato, a Japanese government spokesman, said Tokyo was working with the IOC and other local authorities to determine the athlete’s intentions. The IOC said it had asked for a report from the Belarusian Olympic Committee before deciding whether to take further action.
Japanese police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya told the The Washington City Times that “what happened to Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is part of the wider crackdown on athletes in Belarus. Today, any criticism of authorities – even sports leadership – is considered an attack on the government.”
The IOC said it was still in the process of determining how Tsimanouskaya left the athletes’ village. It said the sprinter appeared to have traveled to the airport with a group of about 16 Belarusian athletes who were due to leave Japan after their events ended.
The IOC said it was unclear whether other Belarusian officials or coaches had accompanied her to the airport.
Images and videos circulated on social media by Belarusian opposition activists appeared to show Tsimanouskaya refusing to board a plane.
The Belarus Olympic Committee did not respond to a request for comment, but a statement attributed to the organization suggested that Tsimanouskaya had been removed from the competition by coaches on the advice of doctors about her “emotional, psychological state”.
In response, Tsimanouskaya posted that statement on Instagram with the message, “This is a lie.”
“I ask the International Olympic Committee for help, they… [Belarusian officials] are pressuring me and they are trying to get me out of the country without my permission,” Tsimanouskaya said in a video message reportedly shot from the airport on Sunday night.
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