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Belarusian Athlete Seeks Asylum After Coaches Tried To Force Her Into Flight Home

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya

August 01, (THEWILL) – In a high stakes drama that mixes politics with sports, Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarusian female sprinter who criticised her country’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko, the repressive Belarusian leader backed by Russia’s Vladimir Putin, has claimed that the Belarusian Olympic officials tried to remove her from Japan by force.

Tsimanouskaya had to appeal to Japanese authorities for the move by her coaches in what is suspected to be an attempted kidnapping even though she was due to compete in the women’s 200m race on Monday.

The 24-year-old athlete revealed that she did not plan to return to Belarus and quickly sought the protection of Japanese police at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport so she would not have to board the flight that her coaches were intent on forcing her into.

Her allegations against the Belarus officials included them entering her into the relay event on Thursday at short notice after some team mates were found to be ineligible to compete in the same Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) report that left 10 Nigerian athletes out of contention.

In the lead up to the officials conspiring to suddenly send her back to Belarus on a booked flight, Tsimanouskaya claimed her coaching staff had abruptly come to her room on Sunday and told her to pack her belongings, after which they headed to the airport.

However, according to the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF), which supports athletes jailed or sidelined for their political views, Tsimanouskaya did not board the flight.

Instead, she summoned the Japanese police to get involved before foreign ministry officials arrived at the airport much later to intervene.

The BSSF group noted that the athlete was quick to contact it for help to avoid what she feared was a forced deportation to Minsk organised because of her views.

Alexander Opeikin, a spokesman for the group, said of the intention to force her back home: “The campaign was quite serious and that was a clear signal that her life would be in danger in Belarus.”

He added that the sprinter was taken to a safe place and would ask for asylum from the Austrian embassy.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was made aware of the case and weighed in as well. The Committee has had disputes with the Belarus National Olympic Committee on state interference with sports ahead of the Tokyo Games.

It reckoned it had intervened in Tsimanouskaya’s case in a statement that said in part: “The IOC is looking into the situation and has asked the NOC for clarification.”

Part of the grouse of the IOC with the Belarus National Olympic Committee has largely been because it has been led for more than 25 years by Lukashenko and his son, Viktor, both of whom are banned from the Tokyo Olympics by the IOC.

The ban was necessitated by the conclusions of investigations of complaints from athletes that they faced reprisals and intimidation in fallout from protests since last August after the country’s disputed presidential election where a Lukashenko controlled Central Election Commission returned him to office for a sixth term.

A statement from the Belarusian NOC on Sunday said that national coaches had decided to withdraw Tsimanouskaya from the Tokyo Games on doctors’ advice about her “emotional, psychological state”, which was a strange turn because there was nothing to suggest it was so.

Tsimanouskaya must have been targeted for criticising the Belarus team officials on her Instagram account. She complained of having been put in the 4×400 relay despite never racing the event and because the officials were trying to make up for the AIU ban.

She filmed a video that was published on the Telegram app by the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, in which she asked the International Olympic Committee to get involved in her case. In the video, she said:

“I am asking the International Olympic Committee for help. There is pressure against me and they are trying to get me out of the country without my permission. So, I am asking the IOC to get involved in this.”

The circumstances of the situation will be investigated to know if any crime was committed and if the Belarus NOC actually attempted to force her home for the comments she made. With the IOC involvement due to their previous disputes with Belarus on the treatment of her athletes, it is possible that Tsimanouskaya’s asylum appeal might sail through.