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Olympic Athlete Forced To Seek Asylum As She Faced ‘Punishment’ Or Worse Upon Return Home

by : Poppy Bilderbeck on : 03 Aug 2021 17:17
Olympic Athlete Forced To Seek Asylum As She Faced 'Punishment' Or Worse Upon Return HomePA Images/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Belarusian athlete, Krystina Tsimanouskaya has been forced to seek asylum after saying she would have faced ‘punishment’ if she returned home to Minsk. 

The sprinter had a public feud with her national team’s officials, due to criticising the coaching staff over social media. The video of the sprinter accusing her coaches of ‘negligence’ caused massive backlash in the media back in Minsk.

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Tsimanouskaya wrote on Instagram that her coaches put her into the 4×400 metre relay despite her never having raced in the event before. She also claimed her coaches had failed to get the necessary drugs tests for her fellow athletes.

She was subsequently removed from the 200-metre race and said officials ‘tried to force’ her to fly back from the Games early.

Tsimanouskaya put in a request for an interim ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to try and be allowed to run in the race. However, she lost the legal battle.

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The 24-year-old refused to board the plane home from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and spent a night at an airport hotel. The next morning, she went to the Polish embassy in Tokyo and applied for a visa.

Tsimanouskaya had spoken out in a video posted on social media that she felt pressured by Belarus team officials, so asked the International Olympic Committee for help. She said: ‘I was put under pressure and they are trying to forcibly take me out of the country without my consent’.

In a video interview with The Associated Press, the sprinter said team officials ‘made it clear that upon return home I would definitely face some form of punishment’ for the criticism she put on social media. She went on to say: ‘There were also thinly disguised hints that more would await me.’ The sprinter said she also believed she would even be kicked off the national team.

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The Belarusian athlete was later granted a humanitarian visa from Poland. She is planning to seek refuge in Europe and will fly to Warsaw this week.

Tsimanouskaya’s husband, Arseniy Zdanevich, fled to Ukraine on Monday. He told Sky News: ‘I didn’t think it would get this serious. I made the decision to leave without thinking twice.’ Zdanevich carried on by saying that he and his wife are ‘just normal sports people’ and denied having any connections or supporting the opposition.

He concluded: ‘We’re just devoted to sports and we’re not interested in the opposition movement.’

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Tsimanouskaya has previously won two medals in the 100 and 200-metre sprints, however, this was her first summer Olympics.

Once she reaches Europe, Tsimanouskaya hopes to continue her sporting career.

She told the Associated Press: 

I would very much like to continue my sporting career because I’m just 24, and I had plans for two more Olympics at least. For now, the only thing that concerns me is my safety.

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Deputy foreign minister Marcin Przydacz tweeted: ‘Poland will do whatever is necessary to help her to continue her sporting career.’

On Tuesday, Tsimanouskaya demanded that international sports authorities begin an investigation to figure out who gave the order for her to be withdrawn early from Tokyo 2020.

The head of Belarus’ delegation at the Games, Dzmitry Duhalionak, was contacted on Tuesday, but said he had ‘no words’ and declined to comment.

The Belarus Olympic Committee took to Facebook to say the athlete was removed from the Games due to her ’emotional and psychological state’, according to doctors.

However, Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation spokesperson, Alexander Opeikin, told The Associated Press: ‘The campaign was quite serious and that was a clear signal that her life would be in danger in Belarus.’

While Tsimanouskaya declined to comment on wider political issues in Belarus, the incident comes after Belarus was accused of ‘hijacking’ a Ryanair flight.  The flight was diverted to Minsk, with Belarus accused of engaging in an act of state terrorism in order to arrest an opposition blogger who had criticised authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko.

An activist has also just been found dead, just one day after Tsimanouskaya was granted her visa to Poland. The man, Vitaly Shishov, has helped many of Belarus’ nonconformists safely flee to Ukraine. Shishov reportedly helped Tsimanouskaya’s husband flee to Ukraine.

The incident involving the athlete and the death of Shishov have not been officially tied together by officials. But, in a statement, the Belarus House in Ukraine group have said they will ‘fight for the truth about Vitaly’s death’.

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Topics: News, Belarus, Poland, Tokyo 2020 Olympics

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AP News and 3 others