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Belarusian Olympic sprinter says she was pressured to leave Tokyo after criticizing her country’s Olympic officials

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said she was taken to the airport against her wishes on Aug. 1 after she criticized coaches at the Tokyo Olympics. (Video: Reuters)
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Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said she was forced to pack her things in Tokyo and escorted to the airport after she publicly criticized Belarusian Olympic officials.

Saying she did not want to return to Belarus, the sprinter sought protection from Japanese police at Haneda Airport in Tokyo and issued a plea to the International Olympic Committee.

“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,” she said in a video that circulated on social media on Sunday. The video was originally posted on Telegram, according to the BBC.

The IOC said in a statement Sunday that Olympic officials had spoken with Tsimanouskaya directly and that she was with authorities at Haneda Airport, accompanied by a Tokyo 2020 staff member. “She has told us that she feels safe,” the statement said.

Pavel Latushka, of the Belarusian opposition organization National Anti-Crisis Management, said his group had been in touch with the sprinter and that she had been transferred to a secure location that “restricts access to her in order to ensure her physical safety.”

The Belarus Olympic Committee did not immediately respond to emailed questions from The Washington Post.

The 24-year-old sprinter was scheduled to run the women’s 200-meter race on Monday. But 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,” according to Reuters.

In a video posted on Instagram, she had criticized Belarusian Olympic officials for allegedly deciding once she was already in Tokyo that she must run the 4x400-meter relay — which she had not trained for — after other members of the team were found ineligible because they had not completed the proper doping testing.

“It turns out that our ‘very cool’ leadership has once again decided everything for us,” she said in the Instagram story, adding, “Why do we have to pay for your mistakes?”

She did not criticize Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko or the government in the video. State media criticized her after she posted it.

On Sunday, Tsimanouskaya reposted a statement from the Belarus Olympic Committee saying she had been removed from competition due to her “emotional and psychological state.”

“This is a lie,” she wrote.

Tsimanouskaya told Belarusian sports news outlet Tribuna that a senior coach in Minsk and another official had called to tell her to delete her earlier video from Instagram if she wanted to continue her athletic career. And she said the head coach of the national team, Yuri Moisevich, had suggested she should claim an injury and bow out of her race and the Games, as she was interfering with the team’s performance.

Tsimanouskaya told Tribuna she thought she and Moisevich had reached a deal that she could race as long as she refrained from making further public comments. But on Sunday, she said, Moisevich and a representative from the national team told her to pack her bags, and then a psychologist and another team representative took her to the airport.

Photos published by Reuters on Sunday showed the athlete at the airport, conferring with Japanese police.

She told reporters that she feared for her safety if she returned to Belarus and that she planned to seek asylum.

“As Moisevich told me, this issue is no longer at the level of the [sports] federation, not at the level of the Ministry of Sports, but at a higher level,” she told Tribuna.

“I am afraid that in Belarus they might put me in jail. I am not afraid that I will be fired or kicked out of the national command,” she added. “I am worried about my safety. And I think that at the moment it is not safe for me in Belarus.”

In August 2020, after a disputed Belarusian election and a government crackdown on opposition figures and activists, Tsimanouskaya posed for a photo with other national athletes and posted it on Instagram with the caption: “We can no longer tolerate the violence that is used against our citizens, friends, colleagues and relatives. We consider the actions of the power structures illegal and unacceptable.”

On Sunday, Polish deputy foreign minister Marcin Przydacz tweeted that his country had offered the sprinter a humanitarian visa. The prime minister of Slovenia and the Czech foreign minister also said she was welcome in their countries. National Anti-Crisis Management said it had additionally contacted the Austrian and German foreign ministries on her behalf.

“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. It is also crucial to investigate Belarus’ NOC violations of athletes’ rights,” Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, called Belarusian authorities’ move to return Tsimanouskaya to the country “typical of a dictatorship.”

“By no means should she be forcibly returned to Belarus,” he wrote Sunday on Twitter.

Lukashenko has waged a broad crackdown in recent months on opposition in the autocratic Eastern European country, jailing those who criticize the government. In May, Belarus forced the landing of a Ryanair flight and arrested a journalist on board.

Isabelle Khurshudyan in Moscow contributed to this report.

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