An Olympic track and field athlete has allegedly been pressured by her country to leave the Tokyo Olympics after she took to Instagram to criticise her coaches.
Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya claims she was taken to the airport in Tokyo against her will after she complained on social media about being entered into another race at short notice.
The 24-year-old voiced fears for her safety when she refused an order to fly home prematurely from the Olympics for criticising her coaches. She said she sought police protection at the terminal so she would not have to board the flight.
Officials brought her to the departure area and were going to put her on a flight to Istanbul. The flight eventually took off without Tsimanouskaya on board.
She was heard saying “I think I am safe. I am with the police,” as she was pictured surrounded by officers. “Now I am with the police, while they are deciding what to do,” the sprinter wrote to the European Radio for Belarus (ERB).
Tsimanouskaya was due to compete in Monday’s Women’s 200m event and said she was “put under pressure” by team officials to return home. She asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for assistance.
In a video posted on the Telegram channel of the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) she said they were “… trying to get me out of the country without my permission.”
The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation supports athletes jailed or condemned for their political views. It was set up in August last year during protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, who was re-elected in a disputed presidential vote.
The International Olympic Committee said it was waiting for further clarification from Belarussian officials – who earlier said that Tsimanouskaya was taken off the team due to her “emotional and psychological condition”.
The International Olympic Committee later relayed a message saying they had spoken to Tsimanouskaya and that “she has told us she feels safe.”
The BSSF’s Anatol Kotau, a resigned employee of Lukashenko’s Presidential Office and a member of Belarusian National Anti-Crisis Management, reiterated to the BBC that Tsimanouskaya was now “safe” and in police protection.
On Sunday, the 24-year old told radio station European Radio for Belarus she was afraid to return to her country. “I was just told to pack up and fly home,” she said.
When she was asked whether she was afraid to return to Belarus, Tsimanovskaya replied: “Yes” and added that she plans to seek political asylum in Europe.
She had previously claimed in a video posted on Instagram that she was entered into this Thursday’s 400m relay event at short notice by Belarusian officials, after some teammates were found ineligible to compete when they failed a sufficient number of doping tests.
Belarusian state media criticised the young athlete after she posted the video, with one television channel claiming she lacked “team spirit”.
Countries including the Czech Republic and Poland have announced they are ready to offer her a visa and protection.
Kotau told the BBC that Tsimanovskaya is still “frightened” about her family’s safety, and that she is “… afraid of repression on her family in Belarus. This is the main concern for her right now.”