— Published 2 August 2021

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, another form of pressure

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya

The IOC thought it was finished, at least for a while, with the thorny Belarus issue. But a new piece has just been added to the case. It concerns an athlete present at the Tokyo Games: Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24 years old, competing in athletics in the women’s 100 and 200m. On Sunday, August 1st, the young woman took a shuttle bus to Haneda airport in the evening, along with 16 other members of the Belarus delegation. She was to board a Turkish Airlines flight to Minsk, the country’s capital. To return home, then.

But unlike her fellow travellers, she did not consent. Eliminated during the 100m play-off rounds on Friday, July 30th, at the Olympic Stadium (she ended 4th in 11 sec 47), she was still due to compete in the 200m, starting on Monday, August 2nd. But the Belarus team officials withdrew her from the list of participants. They cited medical reasons due to her emotional and psychological state to explain her withdrawal.

The athlete claimed a different version. In a video posted on Telegram, she explained that she was forced to leave the Games and return to Belarus. “I was pressured and they are trying to make me leave the country without my consent,” she said.

She then told Reuters that she was in the Belarusian regime’s radar for having publicly criticised the management of the national athletics team. She says she was mistakenly entered in the 4×400m, although her main focus was on the 100 and 200m. “Why should we pay for your mistakes? It’s arbitrary,” she said. What’s next is more vague.

When she arrived at Haneda airport, Krystsina Tsimanouskaya allegedly asked the Tokyo Organising Committee and the IOC for help. The former responded without delay, through a team present on site to assist the athletes leaving Tokyo, and the Japanese police quickly took over. The young woman was taken away from the Belarusians’ group and placed under police protection. Shortly after midnight, she was reportedly in contact with the IOC on the phone. The athlete was then able to leave the airport, under police escort, to spend the night in a nearby hotel. She published a short message explaining that she was now “safe”.

Speaking during a press conference on Monday morning, the IOC spokesman Mark Adams said that discussions with the young woman would continue throughout the day. They are being led by James McLeod, the director of relations with National Olympic Committees. At the same time, the body explained that it had asked the Belarusian Olympic Committee for an explanation.

“We are protecting her and will continue to do so,” said Mark Adams. The IOC spokesman recalled that the Olympic body had already sanctioned the Belarusian regime “as much as it could”. Alexander Lukashenko, the head of state and long-time president of the National Olympic Committee, was suspended. His son Viktor succeeded him, but the IOC did not recognise the election as valid.

According to a group of opponents of the Belarusian regime, Krystsina Tsimanouskaya intends to seek political asylum in Japan. The information has not yet been confirmed.

But several European countries have already offered to help her. Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa said on his Twitter account that she was “welcome” in his country.

“The Czech Republic is ready to help,” said Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek, also on Twitter. The Czech even offered to deliver a visa for her through its embassy in Tokyo.

Polish foreign ministry official Marcin Przydacz also said on Twitter that his country was ready to grant her a visa, and that she was “free to continue her sporting career in Poland” if she wanted to.

Late on Monday, August 2nd, the Polish authorities announced that the young woman had taken refuge in the Polish embassy in Tokyo. An official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that she had applied for a humanitarian visa. It will be granted. The Belarusian athlete is expected to leave Japan for Poland in the coming days.