KEY POINTS

  • Japan has reportedly sheltered Tsimanouskaya following her decision to not return home to Belarus
  • Tsimanouskaya said the issue started when she complained of being listed on a relay without her knowledge
  • The 24-year-old said she might get jailed if she returns home, as was the case with journalist Roman Protasevich, who was arrested in a Minsk airport in May
  • Tsimanouskaya did not detail the reasons why she fears for her safety

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya escaped from a flight to Minsk from the Haneda Airport on Sunday and asked for Japanese protection, claiming that her team forced her to return home after she publicly complained of a decision made by national coaches.

Japanese authorities and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed that Tsimanouskaya has been placed under Japanese protection as of Monday after she refused to board the flight back home, NBC reported. “She has told us she feels safe,” the IOC said in a tweet.

Tsimanouskaya was supposed to participate in the 200-meter heats Monday after she performed in the women’s 100-meter heats Friday. The sprinter said the national coach added her to the 4x400 meter relay scheduled Thursday without her knowledge after some of the original sprinters were unable to fly to Tokyo as they did not complete the required doping tests. 

Speaking with Reuters, the 24-year-old athlete further revealed that after she complained of the issue through a video she posted online, the head coach told her that “there had been an order from above to remove me.”

Tsimanouskaya was then ordered to pack and was taken to the Haneda airport by Belarusian Olympic team representatives. She said she has since deleted the video.

In a statement, the Belarusian Olympic Committee said the decision by coaches to remove Tsimanouskaya from the Tokyo Games was under doctor’s advice due to her supposed “emotional, psychological state,” the outlet reported. The athlete, however, denied the claims, stating that she was not examined by doctors and is in a “good psychological state.”

Tsimanouskaya was also quoted by Belarusian sports news site Tribuna as saying that while she is not scared of getting “kicked out of the national team,” she fears for her safety. “I am afraid that I might be jailed in Belarus,” Tsimanouskaya reportedly said. The sprinter did not provide further details on why she thinks she might be put in prison when she steps back home.

Tsimanouskaya’s ordeal came at a time when Belarus remains in intense discord following protests last year against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. During last year’s rallies, some athletes joined protests against the Lukashenko regime. Lukashenko’s son, Viktor Lukashenko, is also president of the Belarus Olympic Committee.

The issue on Tsimanouskaya’s refusal to board a plane home came roughly two months after Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich was pulled out of his Ryanair flight and arrested in Minsk. Protasevich’s girlfriend was also arrested.

Protasevich’s flight, which was supposed to ride from Athens to Vilnius, was forced to land in Minsk. Protasevich is known for being a public critic of Lukashenko and his administration. He is accused of organizing public riots. 

Meanwhile, Tsimanouskaya is reportedly requesting for the IOC to investigate her case. A source from the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation said Tsimanouskaya is now planning to request asylum either in Austria or Germany.

Head of the foundation, Aliaksandra Herasimenia, said the Polish consulate was first to respond with willingness to welcome Tsimanouskaya following an appeal to several countries.

Coronavirus fears dominated the build-up to the Tokyo Olympics Coronavirus fears dominated the build-up to the Tokyo Olympics Photo: AFP / Yasuyoshi CHIBA