A Belarusian track and field Olympian is at the center of a dispute with her home country that led to a tense situation Sunday evening at Tokyo’s Haneda airport and the looming possibility of an asylum claim.
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said on social media and claimed in comments to international reporters that she was being forcibly repatriated to Belarus after criticizing her coaches publicly.
Tsimanouskaya, 24, is slated to compete in the 200-meter heats on Monday and the 4x400 relay on Thursday, according to NBC News.
The International Olympic Committee, which Tsimanouskaya specifically called out to for help in social media posts, tweeted Sunday that it had spoken to her directly and that a staff member from the games was with her at the airport.
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The Belarusian Olympic Committee said in a statement that coaches had decided to withdraw Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors' advice about her "emotional, psychological state."
She disputed that in statements to global media.
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She had publicly criticized Belarusian Olympics officials for registering her for what she said was an incorrect relay race for which she had not trained, ostensibly because the athletes slated for the event had failed to meet drug test requirements.
Belarus was rocked by protests in 2020 after Alexander Lukashenko — referred to as “Europe’s last dictator” — claimed an election his opponents say was rigged.
The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation group, which says it represents Belarusian athletes who have been targeted for retaliation for expressing political views, said government supporters targeted the athlete.
It said Tsimanouskaya contacted it for help to avoid what she feared was a forced deportation to Minsk.
“The campaign was quite serious and that was a clear signal that her life would be in danger in Belarus,” Alexander Opeikin, a spokesman for the BSSF, told The Associated Press in an interview.
The Belarus National Olympic Committee has been led for more than 25 years by Lukashenko and his son, Viktor.
Both Lukashenkos are banned from the Tokyo Olympics by the IOC, which investigated complaints from athletes that they faced reprisals and intimidation in fallout from protests since last August after the country's disputed presidential election.
Tsimanouskaya was taken to a safe place and would ask for asylum from the Austrian embassy, Opeikin said.
Marcin Przydacz, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Poland, tweeted that she would be welcome in his country, adding that "She was offered a humanitarian visa and is free to pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses."
The Associated Press contributed to this report