Belarus Olympian seeks asylum after refusing forced flight home

Tokyo — Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya entered the Polish Embassy in Tokyo to seek asylum Monday after she said members of her Olympic team tried to forcibly remove her from Japan for publicly criticizing her coaches.

On Sunday, Tsimanouskaya had sought help from the Tokyo police at the airport when she refused to board a flight.

“They are trying to get me out of the country without my permission,” Tsimanouskaya said in a video posted on social media. “I ask the IOC to intervene.”

She had earlier criticized her coaches for assigning her to an additional Olympic event on short notice after some teammates were not eligible to compete.

The IOC said Tsimanouskaya is now “safe and secure,” and an official at the Polish foreign ministry said the athlete had been offered a humanitarian visa, BBC News reported.

Belarus Olympian Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who claimed her team tried to force her to leave Japan, walks with her luggage inside the Polish Embassy in Tokyo on August 2, 2021.
Belarus Olympian Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who claimed her team tried to force her to leave Japan, walks with her luggage inside the Polish Embassy in Tokyo on August 2, 2021. YUKI IWAMURA/AFP via Getty Images

Athletes as opposition

Tsimanouskaya’s supporters said her life would be in danger if she was sent back to Belarus, where dissent has been stifled under the authoritarian rule of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Last year, large-scale protests erupted after Lukashenko claimed victory in a disputed election. Some of those who joined the protests were national-level athletes who were then stripped of funding and detained, the BBC reported.

In May, the Belarusian military forced the diversion of a plane to take custody of opposition blogger Roman Protasevich in what was described as a “hijacking.”

The protests were met with a violent crackdown, and many opposition leaders were forced to flee the country.

Belarus at the Olympics

Both Lukashenko and his son Victor, who is the head of the Belarussian Olympic Committee, were banned from the Tokyo Olympic Games for targeting athletes who supported the opposition in Belarus.

In a statement, the Belarusian Olympic Committee said Tsimanouskaya was removed from the Games because of her “emotional and psychological state.”

Meanwhile, an activist group supporting Tsimanouskaya in Tokyo said they were working on arranging her flight to Poland later this week.

Anatol Kotau, a member of the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, which was created last year to support athletes during the election protests, told the BBC that Tsimanouskaya was “afraid of repression on her family in Belarus. This is the main concern for her right now.”