Belarusian sprinter who sought refuge in Tokyo is ‘safe’, IOC says

Tokyo Olympics updates

The Belarusian sprinter competing at the Tokyo Games who alleged she had been taken to the airport against her will for criticising national coaches is “safe”, according to Olympic officials.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya stayed at a hotel in Tokyo’s Haneda airport on Sunday after seeking “protection” from local authorities, according to the International Olympic Committee.

Japanese police, Tokyo 2020 officials and a representative from the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, were also with the runner, who had been due to compete in heats for the women’s 200-metre event on Monday.

“She’s safe and secure,” said Mark Adams, the IOC’s chief spokesperson. 

Katsunobu Kato, Japanese government spokesperson, said Tokyo was working with the IOC and other local authorities to determine the athlete’s intentions.

The regime of Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’ dictatorial leader, has been roundly criticised after he fraudulently claimed victory in last year’s presidential election and embarked on a brutal campaign to suppress protesters and supporters of his rival.

The IOC banned Lukashenko from attending the Tokyo Games along with other national officials, including his son Viktor, the president of the country’s Olympic committee. 

The sanctions were imposed after Belarusian athletes accused authorities of political discrimination and imprisonment. The IOC has also frozen payments to the Belarus Olympic Committee other than those paid directly to athletes. 

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarus’s opposition leader, told the Financial Times that “what happened to Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is part of the wider crackdown against athletes in Belarus. Today, any criticism of authorities — even sports leadership — is considered an attack on the government.” 

Tsimanouskaya had used her social media accounts to castigate coaches who she said registered her for events for which she had not trained, such as the 4×400-metre relay, as other Belarusian athletes had not completed enough anti-doping tests to compete.

The IOC said it was still working to determine how Tsimanouskaya left the athletes’ village on Sunday. It said the sprinter appeared to have travelled to the airport with a group of about 16 Belarusian athletes set to leave Japan after their events ended. 

Tsimanouskaya was due to compete in the women’s 200-metre event after having run in the heats of the 100-metre race on Friday. The IOC said it was unclear if other Belarusian officials or coaches had accompanied her to the airport.

Images and video circulated on social media sites 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 organisation suggested that Tsimanouskaya had been removed from 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 am asking the International Olympic Committee for help, they [Belarusian officials] are putting pressure on me and they are trying to take me out of the country without my consent,” Tsimanouskaya said in a video message reportedly recorded on Sunday evening from the airport.

The IOC said it had requested a report from the Belarus Olympic Committee before deciding whether to take further action. The Japanese police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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