On Monday, August 2, Poland offered a visa to a Belarusian Olympic sprinter who claimed that her team’s officials tried to force her to fly home after she criticized her home country’s authorities on Instagram.
“I was put under pressure, and they are trying to forcibly take me out of the country without my consent,” athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said in a video message posted on social media, pleading for help from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Tsimanouskaya was concerned that she might be targeted by dictatorial authorities who had been criticized for diverting a jet to apprehend a journalist who had an opposing opinion.
Since a presidential campaign a year ago sparked a wave of unexpected public demonstrations, Belarus’ authoritarian government has constantly targeted anyone, even modestly showing opposition.
On August 1, her training team came to her room and asked her to pack, according to the 24-year-old runner.
She was then whisked away to Haneda airport by members of the Belarusian Olympic team who attempted to force her to board an aircraft back to Belarus, Tsimanouskaya recalled.
However, she refused to board the airplane and sought assistance from Japanese police.
On Monday, August 2, the athlete sought asylum in the Polish embassy while guarded by Japanese police.
“Apparently, representatives of the Belarusian national team took her to the airport,” journalist Hanna Liubakova commented on Twitter. “It looks like kidnapping.”
The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) has booked her a flight to Warsaw, Poland’s capital, on August 4, according to Vadim Krivosheyev of the organization.
“The campaign was quite serious and that was a clear signal that her life would be in danger in Belarus,” a spokesman for the BSSF Alexander Opeikin told the Associated Press.
Tsimanouskaya has been granted a “humanitarian visa” as well as “is free to pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses,” according to Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz.
The controversy began when Tsimanouskaya posted on Instagram that she was entered in the 4×400 relay despite never having competed in the event.
“The coach added me to the relay without my knowledge. I spoke about this publicly.” Tsimanouskaya said from the airport, according to Reuters.
Her critics then sparked a significant outcry in Belarus’ state-run media.
The IOC announced that it had interfered. “The IOC … is looking into the situation and has asked the NOC for clarification,” it stated.
Many organizations and governments have stated that they are assisting the athlete. The Czech Republic had also offered her asylum, and Japan’s Foreign Ministry said that it was cooperating with the IOC and the Tokyo Olympics organizers.
“If she decides to accept it, we’ll do our maximum to help her,” Jakub Kulhanek, the Czech Foreign Minister, posted.
Tsimanouskaya missed the competition in the Olympic 200-meter heats on Monday due to Monday’s event. On the opening day of track events at Tokyo’s National Stadium on Friday, she already raced for Belarus. In her first-round heat of the 100 meters, she finished fourth in 11.47 seconds and did not continue.
Tsimanouskaya had been withdrawn from the Games based on physicians’ advice about her “emotional, psychological state,” the Belarusian Olympic Committee announced.