A Belarusian Olympic sprinter who refused to board a flight home after clashing with officials on her team at the Tokyo Olympics said the authorities had “made it clear” that if she returned to Belarus she would be punished.
Speaking to The Associated Press, Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said team officials “made it clear that I would definitely expect some form of punishment when I returned home”.
When asked how this was made clear, Tsimanouskaya, 24, said that “the key phrase was that we didn’t make the decision that you go home, but it was decided by other people and we were only told to do it to implement. ‘“
The athlete had hoped to be able to run the women’s 200-meter run on Monday. However, her Olympic career took an unexpected turn after publicly criticizing her coaches for trying to force her to another event, and her comments sparked a backlash from the state media in her home country.
Tsimanouskaya said her team tried to force her to return to Belarus on Sunday and officials took her to Haneda Airport against her will.
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However, the 24-year-old refused to board and instead sought protection from the Japanese police.
A number of countries have offered to help the athlete in the days since, with Poland granting Tsimanouskaya a humanitarian visa on Monday.
The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF), a dissident sports organization that supports Tsimanouskaya, told The Associated Press that it had already bought a ticket for the athlete to Warsaw, with her flight scheduled to depart on Wednesday.
Speaking to AP, Tsimanouskaya said she hopes to continue her sporting career once she is safe.
“I would very much like to continue my sporting career because I am only 24 years old and had at least plans for two more Olympics,” she said. But “the only thing that concerns me now is my safety.”
Tsimanouskaya said she was also concerned for her parents’ safety as her family was staying in Belarus.
Her husband, Arseni Zdanewich, has left the country and is currently in Ukraine.
Tsimanouskaya had said on Instagram that her fallout with her coaches unfolded after being placed in the 4×400 relay at the Tokyo Olympics, despite never attending the event. Then she was banned for the 200 meters.
The athlete filed a legal offer to run at the event, but the sports arbitration tribunal said it denied her request for an interlocutory decision that would have allowed her to run on Monday.
On Tuesday, Tsimanouskaya called for an investigation into the matter and suggested possible “sanctions against the head coach who approached me and deprived me of the right to attend the Olympics”.
She called on the international sports authorities to “investigate the situation, who gave the order, who actually made the decision that I can no longer compete”.
Tsimanousskaya’s attempt to avoid possible persecution in Belarus stems from the fact that the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, continues to see widespread criticism of his brutal crackdown on political dissidents.
The Belarusian leader sparked international outrage when his government saw a plane being diverted to the capital, Minsk.
Lukashenko’s son Viktor currently heads the National Olympic Committee of Belarus.
However, both were banned from the Tokyo Olympics by the International Olympic Committee after investigating complaints from athletes who said they were intimidated during Lukashenko’s crackdown on dissidence after a wave of anti-government protests last year.
For Tsimanouskaya, the athlete said she did not want to “interfere in politics”.
“For me, my career is important, only sport is important and I only think about my future, how I can continue my career,” she said.