The Tokyo Olympics, after making history by being delayed, still taking place amid COVID-19 chaos and rising numbers of infected in Japan, will also come down in history as the most politicized Olympic Games ever.
On August 1st, a Belarusian sprinter, Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, sought the protection of Japanese police at Haneda Airport after she refused to board a flight to Minsk, the International Olympic Committee and Japanese authorities confirmed.
“They are trying to get me out of the country without my permission,” Tsimanouskaya, 24, said in a video posted online by the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, or BSSF, a dissident athletic organization.
The IOC confirmed in a tweet that Tsimanouskaya “is with the authorities at Haneda airport.”
“She has told us she feels safe,” it said.
The IOC and Tokyo 2020 will continue their conversations with Krystsina Tsymanouskaya and the authorities to determine the next steps in the upcoming days. /2
— IOC MEDIA (@iocmedia) August 1, 2021
The Polish government was the first to offer Tsimanouskaya a safe haven.
“She was offered a humanitarian visa and is free to pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses,” Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Marcin Przydacz said on Twitter.
The Czechs also offered to take in Tsimanouskaya, and the BSSF said she may seek asylum in Germany or Austria.
Tsimanouskaya’s escape, which was first reported by Reuters, came as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been accused of violently quelling a coup attempt and violent riots in the country, organized by school teacher-turned-presidential-candidate Svetlana Tikhanouskaya.
The president of Belarus’ Olympic committee is Lukashenko’s son Victor.
The National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Belarus and the Belarusian Consulate in Tokyo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called on the IOC to protect the sprinter and accused the Lukashenko government of trying to “kidnap” her, likening the airport incident to the forced landing in May of a Ryanair jet in Minsk to arrest the dissident journalist Roman Protashevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega.
Tsimanouskaya, who ran in the women’s 100-meter heats Friday, was supposed to run in the 200-meter heats on August 2nd and the 4×400-meter relay on August 5th.
She said she got in trouble with her coaches after she complained on Instagram that she was being made to run the relay after other members of the team were deemed ineligible to compete at the Olympics because they not undergone all the doping tests.
“Some of our girls did not fly here to compete in the 4×400-meter relay because they didn’t have enough doping tests,” Tsimanouskaya told Reuters at 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.”
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