Belarusian sprinter enters Polish Embassy in Tokyo after plea to IOC for help

Belarusian sprinter enters Polish Embassy in Tokyo after plea to IOC for help

A Belarusian athlete walked into a Polish Embassy in Japan on Monday, a day after refusing to board a flight at a Tokyo airport that she said she was taken to against her wishes by her team.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, will seek asylum in Poland, said a member of the local Belarus community who was in touch with her.

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz wrote on Twitter that Tsimanouskaya has been “offered a humanitarian visa and is free to pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses.”

An activist group said the sprinter is applying for a visa. Vadim Krivosheyev of the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation said the group has bought her a ticket to Warsaw for Aug. 4.

Tsimanouskaya spent the night in an airport hotel after she went to Japanese police at Haneda airport seeking protection late on Sunday, IOC spokesperson Mark Adams told a media conference. A number of agencies were in contact with the sprinter, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, he said.

In a brewing diplomatic incident, both Poland and the Czech Republic publicly offered her assistance on Monday.

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“She has assured us she is safe and secure. We are talking again to her this morning to understand what the next steps will be,” Adams said. “We need to listen to her, find out what she wants and support her in her decision.”

The sprinter, who was due to race in the 200-metre heats at Olympic Stadium on Monday, had her Games cut short when she said she was taken to the airport to board a Turkish Airlines flight.

A removal order ‘from above’

She told a Reuters reporter via Telegram that the Belarusian head coach had turned up at her room on Sunday at the athletes village and told her she had to leave.

“The head coach came over to me and said there had been an order from above to remove me,” she wrote in the message. “At 5 [p.m.] they came my room and told me to pack and they took me to the airport.”

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya talks with police officers at Haneda international airport in Tokyo on Sunday. Tsimanouskaya alleges her Olympic team tried to remove her from Japan in a dispute that led to a standoff at the airport. (Issei Kato/Reuters)

But she refused to board the flight, telling Reuters: “I will not return to Belarus.”

The Belarusian Olympic Committee said in a statement that coaches had decided to withdraw Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors’ advice about her “emotional, psychological state.”

Belarus athletics head coach Yuri Moisevich told state television he “could see there was something wrong with her … She either secluded herself or didn’t want to talk.”

Tsimanouskaya runs in the women’s 100-metre event at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday. (Petr David Josek/The Associated Press)

The IOC would continue conversations with Tsimanouskaya on Monday and the Olympics governing body had asked for a full report from Belarus’s Olympic committee, Adams said.

In response to a number of questions by journalists about what the IOC would do to ensure other athletes in the village were protected, the IOC spokesperson said they were still collecting details about what exactly occurred.

Earlier seeking asylum in Japan

A member of the local Belarusian community, who had been in contact with the athlete throughout the night, told Reuters that after long talks with various officials she had petitioned for asylum in Japan.

The Japanese government said the athlete had been kept safe while Tokyo 2020 organizers and the IOC checked her intentions.

“Japan is co-ordinating with relevant parties and continue to take appropriate action,” said chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato.

WATCH | Belarusian athlete says she was taken to airport against her will:

Belarusian runner Krystsina Tsimanouskaya says she was removed from the national team and taken to Tokyo’s airport against her wishes because she criticized national coaches. 2:48

Poland’s Olympic committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek said he considered the situation around the Belarusian “scandalous.”

“The Czech Republic is ready to help,” he tweeted. “We are offering her a visa to enter the territory so that she can apply for international protection with us. Our embassy in Tokyo is also ready to help.”

Tsimanouskaya’s refusal to board the plane, first reported by Reuters, highlighted discord in Belarus, a former Soviet state that is run with a tight grip by President Alexander Lukashenko.

On Monday, the IOC spokesperson said it had taken a number of actions against Belarus’s Olympic committee in the run-up to the Games following nationwide protests in the country.

In March, the IOC refused to recognize the election of Lukashenko’s son Viktor as head of the country’s Olympic committee. Both father and son were banned from attending the Games in December.

Published at Mon, 02 Aug 2021 06:20:05 +0000