Sports

Belarus athlete will fly to Poland after refusing orders to go home

5 minute read
  • Athlete has taken refuge in Poland's Tokyo embassy
  • Warsaw has granted her a humanitarian visa
  • EU welcomes Polish decision
  • Athlete said to be flying to Poland on Wednesday

TOKYO, Aug 2 (Reuters) - A Belarusian athlete who took refuge in the Polish embassy in Tokyo after refusing her team's orders to fly home from the Olympic Games will travel to Poland on Wednesday, a group of her supporters said.

Sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was granted a humanitarian visa by the Warsaw government. She had earlier refused to get on a flight home, saying she had been taken to the airport against her will by Belarusian officials because she had criticised her team's coaching staff.

"She will fly from Tokyo, a direct flight to Warsaw on August 4, in two days' time," said Aleksandr Opeykin, chairman of the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation.

"She has accepted the offer issued by the Polish Foreign Ministry to request international help, she has done that and she has received a Polish visa today. We, at the Foundation, helped her to get the ticket to Warsaw," Opeykin told Reuters.

A source at the foundation, which supports athletes jailed or sidelined for their political views, said Tsimanouskaya planned to request asylum in Germany or Austria on Monday.

"She is a young sportswoman, a successful one and obviously she would want to continue her career so she will need help to train and develop," Opeykin said.

The athlete arrived at the Polish embassy in Tokyo on Monday.

Polish deputy foreign minister Pawel Jablonski said: "I can confirm that we have issued a humanitarian visa. I can confirm that we will provide all necessary support in Poland if she wishes to use it."

Tsimanouskaya, 24, had been due to compete in the women's 200 metre heats on Monday but said that on Sunday she was taken to the airport to board a Turkish Airlines flight.

She refused, telling Reuters: "I will not return to Belarus."

The European Union welcomed Poland's decision to grant a visa and said the repatriation attempt was further evidence of "brutal repression" by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter the Lukashenko government's "actions violate the Olympic spirit, are an affront to basic rights, and cannot be tolerated."

The incident has focussed attention on Belarus, where police have cracked down on dissent following a wave of protests triggered by an election last year which the opposition says was rigged to keep Lukashenko in power.

The athlete arrived at the Polish embassy in an unmarked silver van about 5 p.m. local time (0800 GMT). She stepped out with her official team luggage, and greeted two officials before going inside.

1/5

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya enters the Polish embassy in Tokyo, Japan, August 2, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Two women, one carrying the red and white flag seen as the symbol of opposition in Belarus, came to the gates to support her.

POLICE PROTECTION

Her husband, Arseni Zhdanevich, will join her in Poland, a Warsaw-based Belarusian opposition politician said.

The politician, Pavel Latushko, said Belarus officials had told Tsimanouskaya's mother that her daughter was a spy for Western governments.

He told Reuters Tsimanouskaya had told him via text message that someone from Lukashenko's office had approached her mother and asked her to persuade the athlete to come home.

Tsimanouskaya 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 and sought the protection of Japanese police.

Tsimanouskaya said she had been removed from the team as she had spoken out about what she described as the negligence of their coaches.

She had complained on Instagram that she was entered in the 4x400 m relay after some team members were found to be ineligible to compete at the Olympics because they had not undergone sufficient doping tests.

"And the coach added me to the relay without my knowledge," Tsimanouskaya said.

The Belarusian Olympic Committee said 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".

A spokesperson for the IOC said it had taken a number of actions against the Belarus Olympic Committee following nationwide protests in the country.

In March, the IOC refused to recognise the election of Lukashenko's son Viktor as head of the country's Olympic Committee. Both father and son were banned from attending the Games in December.

Reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber and Antoni Slodkowski; additional reporting by Karolos Grohmann, Ilya Zhegulev, Margaryta Chornokondtratenko, Chang-Ran Kim, Alan Charlish and Alicja Ptak; Writing by Leela de Kretser, Angus MacSwan and Giles Elgood; Editing by Andrew Heavens, William Maclean and Lincoln Feast.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

More from Reuters