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02 August 2021

Belarus athlete ‘fears for her life’ amid claims her Olympic team tried to remove her from Japan

02 August 2021

A Belarus track sprinter has alleged her Olympic team tried to remove her from Japan in a dispute that led to a stand-off on Sunday evening at Tokyo’s main airport.

Activists supporting Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said she believes her life is in danger in Belarus and that she will seek asylum with the Austrian embassy in Tokyo.

Ms Tsimanouskaya said in a filmed message distributed on social media that she had been pressured by Belarus team officials, and asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for help.

“I was put under pressure and they are trying to forcibly take me out of the country without my consent,” the 24-year-old runner said.

Ms Tsimanouskaya, who is due to run in the Olympic 200-metre heats, criticised Belarus team officials on her Instagram account. She said she had been put in the 4×400 relay despite never racing in the event.

The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) said government supporters had targeted the athlete, and Ms Tsimanouskaya contacted the group for help to avoid what she feared was a forced deportation to Minsk.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya (Petr David Josek/AP)

“The campaign was quite serious and that was a clear signal that her life would be in danger in Belarus,” Alexander Opeikin, a spokesman for the BSSF, told The Associated Press in an interview.

Ms Tsimanouskaya summoned Japanese police at Haneda Airport and did not board a flight departing for Istanbul.

Foreign ministry officials arrived later at the airport, Mr Opeikin said.

In a statement released by the BSSF, Ms Tsimanouskaya said she was in a police station early on Monday morning.

“I explained the situation to a police officer of how I was taken from the Olympic Village,” she said. “Now I am in a secure situation and am figuring out the question of where I will spend the night.”

The IOC, which has been in dispute with the Belarus National Olympic Committee ahead of the Tokyo Games, said it had intervened.

“The IOC … is looking into the situation and has asked the NOC for clarification,” the Olympics said in a statement.

Exiled Belarussian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said president Alexander Lukashenko’s authoritarian government had attempted to kidnap Ms Tsimanouskaya, and called on Japanese authorities and the IOC to ensure safety for all athletes from that country.

Belarus’ neighbour, Poland, where many critics of the Minsk regime have come to live, offered help to Ms Tsimanouskaya.

Deputy foreign minister Marcin Przydacz said on Twitter that Ms Tsimanouskaya has been offered a “humanitarian visa and is free to pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses”.

Japanese government spokesman Katsunobu Kato told reporters that Japan was cooperating with other organisations “to take appropriate measures”, and confirmed Ms Tsimanouskaya is safe. The foreign ministry said Japan is working with the IOC and the Tokyo Olympics organizers.

The Belarus National Olympic Committee has been led for more than 25 years by Mr Lukashenko and his son, Viktor.

Both Lukashenkos are banned from the Tokyo Olympics by the IOC, which investigated complaints from athletes that they faced reprisals and intimidation in the wake of protests since last August after the country’s disputed presidential election.

A spokeswoman for the Belarus Olympic team did not respond to a request for comment.

Ms Tsimanouskaya was taken to a safe place and would ask for asylum from the Austrian embassy, Mr Opeikin said.

Ms Tsimanouskaya had already competed for Belarus on the first day of track events Friday at the National Stadium in Tokyo.

She placed fourth in her first-round heat in the 100 metres, timing 11.47 seconds, and did not advance.

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