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TOKYO 2020

IOC removes two Belarus coaches as sprinter Tsimanouskaya says order to send her home came from ‘high up’

IOC removes two Belarus coaches as sprinter Tsimanouskaya says order to send her home came from ‘high up’
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya competes in the 100m heats at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on 30 July 2021. (Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images)

The coaches who cut short Krystsina Tsimanouskaya’s Tokyo Games have had their accreditation revoked and have been removed from the athletes village, the International Olympic Committee said on Friday.

Athletics head coach Yuri Moisevich and team official Artur Shumak were asked to leave the Olympic village, the IOC said, days after they ordered Tsimanouskaya to pack her bags and go to the airport.

In an exclusive interview with Reuters in Warsaw on Thursday, Tsimanouskaya said the two officials had told her the order to send her home came from “high up” in Belarus.

In a saga reminiscent of Cold War sporting defections, Tsimanouskaya caused a furore on Sunday when she refused to board a flight home and sought protection from Japanese police before seeking asylum in Poland, where she was reunited with her husband on Thursday.

The 24-year-old’s case threatens to further isolate Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who is under Western sanctions after a crackdown on opponents since 2020 and whose son heads the national Olympic committee.

“We are not the ones who made the decision, we are only executing it,” Tsimanouskaya said the two officials had told her. “You have 40 minutes. You have to pack your things and go to the airport.”

Lukashenko’s spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment after Tsimanouskaya’s interview.

Tsimanouskaya said she decided to defect as she was being driven to a Tokyo airport because her grandmother told her that it was not safe to return home to Belarus.

She said she would testify in a disciplinary commission on Friday and urged the IOC to defend her and other athletes.

“I hope that the International Olympic Committee will make the right decision and will defend the athletes and defend me,” she said.

The IOC has come under scrutiny for failing to prevent the athlete being removed from the Games for expressing her views about coaching staff.

In the past the Games organising body has acted swiftly to suspend athletes, officials or team members – even those with provisionally pending investigations – from the Olympics.

“In the interest of the wellbeing of the athletes of the National Olympic Committee of Belarus who are still in Tokyo, and as a provisional measure, the IOC cancelled and removed last night the accreditations of the two coaches,” the IOC said.

“They will be offered an opportunity to be heard.”

The Belarus Olympic team in Tokyo did not comment on Friday. The Belarus National Olympic Committee and the coaches have said they withdrew Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors’ advice about her emotional and psychological state.

Close ties

The Olympic movement has had close ties with the Belarusian government.

Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, frequently visited the former Soviet country as it prepared to host the men’s world championships in 2021.

Belarus was later stripped of its hosting rights over the crackdown against anti-government demonstrators and its lax measures to contain the pandemic.

Lukashenko, an avid hockey player, has been keen to boost the country’s prestige by hosting international sporting events, including the 2019 European Games.

Spyros Capralos, head of the European Olympic Committees and now an IOC member, worked as the event’s coordination commission chief. IOC president Thomas Bach congratulated Lukashenko on the event’s “excellent organisation”.

The IOC banned Lukashenko and his son Viktor from attending the Games in December, and in March refused to recognise the election of Viktor as president of the National Olympic Committee.

Tsimanouskaya, who told Reuters the IOC had acted quickly when she was taken to the airport and remained in contact with her, said her teammates had not been in touch, probably because they feared repercussions.

“I think that they don’t support me because they are afraid,” she said. “If they say something to support me it can end badly for them.”

On the track during the 4x400m heats on Thursday, Belarusian athletes were tight-lipped about Tsimanouskaya’s situation.

“The team continues to fulfil their duties and take part in the competition,” said hurdler Elvira Herman, who ran the 4x400m relay for Belarus on Thursday. “We came here to take part in the Olympics, not to cause problems.”

Timeline of Tsimanouskaya case

Tuesday, 27 July: Tsimanouskaya posts a video on Instagram in which she complains about having been entered in the 4x400m relay without her knowledge. She calls it “negligence” by coaches.

Friday, 30 July: She runs in the 100m at the Tokyo Olympics, finishing fourth in her heat and failing to advance to the semifinals.

Sunday, 1 August: Tsimanouskaya is taken to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport against her wishes. She refuses to get on the plane and tells Reuters she does not want to return to Belarus. She films a video message calling for the IOC to help her and seeks protection from Japanese police at the airport. The Belarusian Olympic Committee says she was being removed from the Games because of her psychological and emotional state.

Monday, 2 August: Tsimanouskaya is due to run in the 200m race but instead goes to the Polish embassy in Tokyo to ask for asylum. Warsaw grants her a humanitarian visa and says it will safeguard her. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says trying to send the sprinter home against her wishes is intolerable “transnational repression”.

Wednesday, 4 August: She flies to Vienna from Tokyo, after having been supposed to board a flight to Warsaw, and then takes another flight on to Warsaw.

Thursday, 5 August: Tsimanouskaya tells Reuters she decided to defect as she was being driven to the airport because her grandmother told her it was not safe to return home to Belarus. She says she had not been involved in the political protest movement against President Lukashenko.

Friday, 6 August: The IOC strips the accreditation of Belarus athletics head coach Yuri Moisevich and team official Artur Shumak and removes them from the Olympic village “in the interest of the wellbeing” the country’s athletes still at the Games. Reuters/DM

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