The Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya has called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to intercede after claiming her criticisms of the national team’s coaches have led to her being dropped from the team and taken, against her wishes, to Tokyo airport.
Tsimanouskaya, who was due to compete in the women’s 200m on Monday, told Reuters she did not plan to return to her country, adding that she had sought the protection of Japanese police at Haneda airport so that she would not have to board the flight.
“I will not return to Belarus,” the 24-year-old athlete told Reuters in a message over Telegram.
Tsimanouskaya said she had been removed from the team due “to the fact that I spoke on my Instagram about the negligence of our coaches”. She also asked the IOC to step in, saying she was in danger of being bundled out of Japan.
“I’m asking the International Olympic Committee for help,” she said in a video posted on the Telegram channel of the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, a group that supports athletes jailed or sidelined for their political views.
“There is pressure against me,” added Tsimanouskaya. “They’re trying to get me out of the country without my permission. I am asking the IOC to get involved.”
The IOC later tweeted to say they had spoken to Tsimanouskaya directly. “She is with the authorities at Haneda airport and is currently accompanied by a staff member of Tokyo 2020. She has told us that she feels safe.
“The IOC and Tokyo 2020 will continue their conversations with Krystsina Tsymanouskaya and the authorities to determine the next steps in the upcoming days.”
The sprinter had said that coaching staff came to her room on Sunday and told her to pack. She was then taken to the airport before she could run in the 200m and the 4x400m relay on Thursday.
She previously complained that she was entered in the 4x400m relay after some members of the team were found to be ineligible to compete at the Olympics because they had not undergone the requisite number of doping tests.
“Some of our girls didn’t fly here to compete in the 4x400m relay because they didn’t have enough doping tests,” Tsimanouskaya told Reuters from the airport. “And the coach added me to the relay without my knowledge. I spoke about this publicly. The head coach came over to me and said there had been an order from above to remove me.”
Tsimanouskaya added that she was standing next to Japanese police at the airport and had contacted a member of the Belarusian diaspora in Japan to pick her up from the airport.
In a statement, the Belarusian Olympic Committee said coaches had decided to withdraw Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors’ advice regarding her “emotional, psychological state”. It did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.
A source at the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation said Tsimanouskaya was planning to seek asylum in Germany or Austria on Monday.
A Reuters photographer witnessed the athlete standing next to Japanese police. “I think I am safe,” she said. “I am with the police.”
A police officer at Haneda airport said they were with a female Olympic athlete from Belarus at Terminal 3.
The Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, has kept a tight grip on the former Soviet state since 1994. Faced with mass street protests last year over what his opponents called rigged elections, he ordered a violent crackdown on protesters. Lukashenko denies the rigging allegations.
Unusually in a country where elite athletes often rely on government funding, some prominent Belarusian athletes joined the protests. Several were jailed, including the Olympic basketball player Yelena Leuchanka and the decathlete Andrei Krauchanka. Others lost their state employment or were removed from national teams for supporting the opposition.
During the cold war, scores of sports people and cultural figures defected from the Soviet Union and its satellite states during overseas competitions or tours. But the freedom of travel that came with the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union saw the need for such dramatic acts dwindle.