Belarusian sprinter 'safe' in Japan, granted Polish visa after home country allegedly tried to forcefully remove her from Olympics

·3-min read

The Japanese government confirmed on Monday that Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is safe after she alleged that her country attempted to forcefully remove her from Tokyo.

Hours later, a Polish government official announced that she had been granted a humanitarian visa and was staying at the nation's embassy in Tokyo. She will leave for Poland in the coming days, where she will be welcome to continue her athletic career under the nation's flag, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydac.

“She’s in the Polish embassy, safe and in quite good condition,” Przydacz told Reuters. “…The Polish embassy is well-protected in Tokyo.”

Przydac said that the next step would be for Tsimanouskaya to apply for asylum if she chooses to do so. Poland's ambassador in Tokyo tweeted that he had met with Tsimanouskaya, and that "she is tired, feared but very grateful for our help at this extremely difficult time of her sport career."

Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is seen at Haneda international airport in Tokyo, Japan August 1, 2021.  REUTERS/Issei Kato
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is seen at Haneda international airport in Tokyo, Japan August 1, 2021. (Reuters/Issei Kato)

Japanese government spokesman Katsunobu Kato told reporters earlier that Japan had been working with other organizations “to take appropriate measures" in the matter. The International Olympic Committee announced earlier Monday that Tsimanouskaya had been accompanied by a member of the Tokyo organizing committee after refusing to board a flight at the Tokyo airport.

Tsimanouskaya: Coaches took her to airport against her will

Tsimanouskaya said on Sunday that the Belarusian coaching staff ordered her to pack and took her to the Tokyo airport against her will after she criticized team officials on social media. She refused to board a plane back to Belarus once she arrived at the airport. She was scheduled to run in the 200 meters on Monday and 4x400-meter relay on Thursday.

“I was put under pressure and they are trying to forcibly take me out of the country without my consent,” she said on a video.

Belarus' crackdown on dissent

Belarus has a history of jailing athletes who are critical of president Alexander Lukashenko, whose disputed re-election in 2020 prompted mass protests. Lukashenko is commonly referred to as "Europe’s last dictator." The IOC banned Lukashenko and his son Viktor from the Tokyo Games. 

The nation made international headlines in May when it sent a fighter jet to intercept a commercial airliner flying in Belarusian airspace. It forced the landing of the Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuania on Lukashenko's direct orders. Dissident journalist Roman Protasevich was removed from the flight before it was allowed to take off again. A passenger said after the flight that Protasevich told her "he was facing the death penalty."

'Her life would be in danger in Belarus'

The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation — an activist group — told AP that Tsimanouskaya reached out to them fearing for her life. 

“The campaign was quite serious, and that was a clear signal that her life would be in danger in Belarus,” BSSF spokesman Alexander Opeikin told AP.

The Belarus Olympic team initially released a statement that it removed Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctor's advice concerning "her emotional, psychological state." It has not publicly commented since.

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