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Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya expressed concern for her safety after she was removed from the team for criticising her coaches.
A 24-year-old Belarusian athlete competing in the Tokyo Olympics is being protected by Japanese police after she refused to board a forced flight home.
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who was due to compete in the women’s 200 metres and the 4×400 metres relay this week, says she was taken to the airport against her will after she criticised her coaches on Instagram.
Tsimanouskaya publicly objected to having been put in the relay race despite never having competed in the event before. Coaching staff swiftly went to the young athlete’s hotel room and instructed her to pack her bags, before escorting her to the airport.
In a statement shared on Facebook, the Belarus Olympic Committee claims she was removed from the team due to her “emotional and psychological state.”
When Krystsina Tsimanouskaya arrived at Tokyo airport, she managed to resist the orders to board a flight back to Minsk via Istanbul, seeking assistance from Japanese police and expressing fears for her safety if she were to return to Belarus.
When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stepped in, the young woman was given a place to stay at a nearby hotel. The IOC has since tweeted that the athlete “feels safe” in the company of Tokyo 2020 staff members.
The BBC reports Tsimanouskaya is now considering seeking asylum in Europe, and has been offered a visa by both the Czech Republic and Poland. Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz confirmed the 24-year-old had been offered a humanitarian visa, saying in a statement that she is “free to pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses.”
Last year, protests broke out in Belarus over the controversial re-election of the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko. Numerous athletes took part in the peaceful demonstrations, but many were punished by being detained, excluded from the national teams, removed from competitions, sacked, and stripped of their salaries. The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation was set up last summer as a result, and the organisation has been supporting Krystsina Tsimanouskaya amid this concerning incident.
Speaking to the BBC, a representative of the Foundation, Anatol Kotau, said: “She’s afraid of repression on her family in Belarus – this is the main concern for her right now.”