By Isabel Reynolds and Aliaksandr Kudrytski
Aug 2, 2021, 3:50 AM – Updated on Aug 2, 2021, 10:55 AM
Word Count: 643
“I am afraid I might be sent to prison in Belarus,” Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, said in an interview to sports news website Tribuna.com published Sunday. Sky News posted a video it said shows her entering the Polish Embassy in Tokyo.
Polish authorities offered her a humanitarian visa, saying she’s free to continue her athletic career there if she chooses.
Tsimanouskaya had refused to get on a flight from the Japanese capital after being taken to the airport against her wishes by Belarusian sports authorities, according to Aliaksandr Apeikin, executive director at the Vilnius, Lithuania-based Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, which provides support to athletes persecuted for criticizing the former Soviet republic’s government.
Tsimanouskaya had blasted the Belarusian Olympic Committee on social media, saying coaches had suddenly told her to take part in a relay race for which she hadn’t trained after failing to ensure that other athletes completed the requisite number of doping tests.
For months, Belarus been the subject of an IOC investigation stemming from reports that President Alexander Lukashenko’s government has punished athletes who have spoken out against his rule or participated in protests.
The EU, the U.S. and other governments earlier this year imposed sanctions on Lukashenko’s government over its treatment of political opponents. These include a dissident journalist detained after the Ryanair flight he was traveling on was intercepted by Belarusian authorities in May.
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In March, the IOC said it wouldn’t recognize Viktor Lukashenko, the president’s son, as the head of its national organizing committee, and wouldn’t invite any senior government official from Belarus to the Olympics. It also faulted the local committee for failing to address concerns that it “had not appropriately protected the Belarusian athletes from political discrimination.”
Poland has offered protection to thousands of Belarusians over the last year, since the government there started a violent crackdown on opponents who had challenged Lukashenko’s claim of victory in August 2020 elections.
“She has told us that she feels safe,” the IOC said on Twitter. The committee has also asked the Belarusian Olympic Committee for a full written report on the issue, after being informed Tsimanouskaya had sought protection at the airport, spokesman Mark Adams told reporters in Tokyo.
Tsimanouskaya ran in a women’s 100-meter qualifier on Friday and was scheduled to run Monday in a qualifying heat in the 200 meters, according to Tokyo Olympics data. She has also been listed as a member of the Belarusian women’s 400-meter relay team. Adams expressed regret that the sprinter had missed her event and said the IOC had a duty of care toward her.
More than halfway through the Tokyo Games, Belarus had won two medals as of Monday afternoon after taking nine in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and 10 in London in 2012.
–With assistance from Emi Nobuhiro and Wojciech Moskwa.