Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya has received a humanitarian visa by Poland after refusing to board a Minsk-bound flight from Tokyo.
The 24-year-old was seen entering the Polish embassy in Tokyo on Monday morning after spending the night at an airport hotel where she applied for a visa.
Sky News spoke to Tsimanouskaya’s husband, Arseniy Zdanevich, who left Belarus last night for Ukraine.
Mr Zdanevich, who is now in Kiev, said: “I didn’t think it would get this serious. I made the decision to leave without thinking twice.”
He spoke to his wife this morning and said she was calm and told him that everything was fine and she was in a safe place.
The Olympian says she was seized by officials from her own country
He said he doesn’t have any further plans yet but is sure he will join his wife wherever she ends up.
“We never had any connections, never supported the opposition. We’re just normal sports people, we’re just devoted to sports and we’re not interested in the opposition movement,” Mr Zdanevich, who is also an athlete, added.
Tsimanouskaya said she was seized by officials from her own country on Sunday after she publicly complained about the national coaches and sought police protection.
Olympic officials later said she was “safe and secure”.
Her arrival at the Polish embassy comes after France‘s European affairs minister said it would be an “honour” if Europe were to grant Tsimanouskaya political asylum.
Poland, where many critics of Alexander Lukashenko‘s regime now live, offered help to Tsimanouskaya, with deputy foreign minister Marcin Przydacz tweeting that Tsimanouskaya has “has received a humanitarian Visa”.
He added: “Poland will do whatever is necessary to help her to continue her sporting career.”
The Belarusian Embassy in Tokyo has made an official request to the Japanese authorities for information about the athlete, the RIA news agency reported.
The Olympian said she was seized by officials from her own country on Sunday after she publicly complained about the national coaches.
She spent the night in an airport hotel after seeking the protection of Japanese police at Haneda airport.
Tsimanouskaya says she was taken to Tokyo Airport against her will
Tsimanouskaya said in a filmed message distributed on social media that she was pressured by Belarus team officials, so had 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.”
Tsimanouskaya had been due to compete in the women’s 200 metres and the 4×400 metres relay at the Tokyo Olympics this week.
But she criticised team officials on her Instagram account, saying she was put in the relay despite never having raced in the event before.
She had also claimed some members of her team were judged ineligible to compete because they had not undergone enough doping tests.
Tsimanouskaya posted a message on social media saying she’d asked IOC officials for help
Coaching staff went to Tsimanouskaya’s room and told her to pack as a response to what she had said, she claimed.
When she arrived at the airport, she summoned Japanese police and refused to board the flight to Minsk via Istanbul.
An activist group supporting Tsimanouskaya said she believed her life was in danger in Belarus and she would seek asylum with the Austrian Embassy in Tokyo.
A spokesman for the Japanese government, Katsunobu Kato, told reporters that Japan was cooperating with other organisations “to take appropriate measures” and confirmed the sprinter was safe.
The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) said Tsimanouskaya contacted them for help over fears she would be deported to Minsk after government supporters targeted her.
“The campaign was quite serious and that was a clear signal that her life would be in danger in Belarus,” BSSF spokesman Alexander Opeikin said.
BSSF said it had bought a plane ticket to Warsaw for 4 August and that the sprinter was applying for a visa in the Polish embassy.
Who is Krystsina Tsimanouskaya?
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is a Belarusian sprinter, having previously won two medals (one gold, one silver) in the 100m and 200m sprints, although this is her first Summer Olympics.
The 24-year-old has previously competed in nine international competitions, coming second in the 100m race at the European U23 Championships held in Poland in 2017. She won gold for her 200m performance at the 2019 Summer Universiade in Naples, Italy.
She came fourth in the women’s 100m heat on 30 July, and was scheduled to take part in the 200m race on Monday 2 August.
In a statement released by the BSSF, Tsimanouskaya said she was in a police station early on Monday.
She said: “I explained the situation to a police officer of how I was taken from the Olympic Village.
“Now I am in a secure situation and am figuring out the question of where I will spend the night.”
The IOC has been in dispute with the Belarus National Olympic Committee, which is headed by the country’s authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko and his son Viktor.
Both of them were banned from the Tokyo Games after the IOC received complaints from athletes about intimidation and reprisals following the protests that began last August after the country’s disputed presidential election.
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Germany on Monday urged Belarus to respect the basic rights and freedoms of its citizens amid the situation with Tsimanouskaya.
“We call on the authorities in Belarus to respect basic democratic rights, including freedom of the media, freedom of the press and freedom of expression,” a German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told a regular government news conference.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the Belarus Olympic Committee said Tsimanouskaya was removed from the Games because of her “emotional and psychological state”.
It said: “According to doctors, due to the emotional and psychological state of the Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, the coaching staff of the national athletics team decided to stop the performance of the athlete at the XXXII Olympics.
“Consequently, the athlete’s application for participation in qualifying races at 200m and in the 4x400m relay was recalled.”