Belarus athlete enters Poland's embassy in Tokyo after refusing to return home
August 02 2021 08:58 AM
This file photo taken on July 30, 2021 shows (from L) Belarus' Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, Spain's Mari
This file photo taken on July 30 shows (from L) Belarus' Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, Spain's Maria Isabel Perez and Nigeria's Blessing Okagbare competing in the women's 100m heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. AFP

Reuters/AFP/Tokyo

A Belarusian athlete walked into a Polish embassy 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, would seek asylum in Poland, said a member of the local Belarus community who was in touch with her. Polish consular officials did not respond to requests for confirmation or comment.
Earlier, Polish foreign ministry official 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."
The sprinter pulled up in front of the embassy in an unmarked silver van about 5 p.m. local time (0800 GMT). She stepped out with her official team luggage, and then greeted two officials before entering the premises.
Two women, one carrying the red and white flag considered the symbol of opposition in Belarus, came to the gates to support her.
In a brewing diplomatic incident on the sidelines of the Olympics, Tsimanouskaya's refusal to board the plane, first reported by Reuters, has thrown a harsh spotlight on discord in Belarus, a former Soviet state that is run with a tight grip by President Alexander Lukashenko.
The sprinter, who was due to compete in the women's 200 metre heats on Monday, had her Games cut short when she said she was taken to the airport to board a Turkish Airlines flight.
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 (pm) they came my room and told me to pack and they took me to the airport."
But she refused to board the flight, telling Reuters: "I will not return to Belarus."
She then sought the protection of Japanese police at the airport.
The Belarusian Olympic Committee said in a statement 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."
Meanwhile, the Czech Republic offered asylum on Monday to Timanovskaya. Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek said his country was ready to welcome the athlete.
"The Japanese authorities have just confirmed to us that the Belarusian athlete Kryscina Tsimanouskaya has received our offer of asylum," he said on Twitter, using a different spelling of her name.
"If she decides to accept it, we will help her as much as possible. The Olympics are not about politics, the methods of the (President Alexander) Lukashenko regime are absolutely shameful," he said.
Japanese and International Olympic Committee officials said the athlete was safe and was communicating with authorities.
"She assured us and has assured us that she feels safe and secure. She spent the night at an airport hotel in a safe and secure environment," IOC spokesman Mark Adams told reporters in Tokyo.
He added that the IOC would be "talking again to her this morning, to understand... what she wants to pursue, and we will give her support in that decision".
UNHCR officials were involved in the case, he added. Japan's foreign and justice ministry as well as local police declined to comment.
Timanovskaya alleged overnight that her team was attempting to send her home after she criticised the Belarusian athletics federation for entering her into a relay race in Tokyo without giving her notice.
"It turns out our great bosses as always decided everything for us," she said in an Instagram story video that is no longer available.
In a later Instagram post she added that she would not have "reacted so harshly if I had been told in advance, explained the whole situation and asked if I was able to run 400 metres".
"But they decided to do everything behind my back," she added.
And in a video the athlete appealed to the IOC to intervene in her case, warning: "I am under pressure and they are trying to take me out of the country without my consent."
Belarusian state television meanwhile has criticised Timanovskaya, with the channel's presenter saying she "turned her time in Tokyo into a grandiose scandal."
Adams said the IOC had demanded a full written account of the incident from Belarus's Olympic committee, adding that the IOC has taken a series of actions against the committee in recent months.
Belarusian President Lukashenko's disputed re-election to a sixth term last August led to the most serious political crisis in the country's modern history, with protesters taking to the streets and authorities cracking down on the opposition.
In December, the IOC banned Lukashenko and his eldest son Viktor from Olympic events over the Belarus Olympic committee's targeting of athletes for their political views.
Then in March, the IOC refused to recognise Viktor Lukashenko's leadership of the Belarus NOC when he took over from his father, who had held the role since 1967.
Viktor Lukashenko was banned from attending the Olympics, along with a member of the country's Olympic Committee executive board and several government officials.
A number of Belarusian athletes have supported Lukashenko's critics and demanded an end to the crackdown.
The turmoil has also led to Belarus being stripped of the hosting rights for this year's ice hockey world championship.
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.

Last updated: August 02 2021 01:15 PM


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