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Tokyo Olympics: Belarus athlete refuses ‘forced’ flight home

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A Belarusian sprinter said she planned to avoid getting on a plane home from Tokyo, after being taken to the airport against her wishes for making complaints against her national coaches.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who was due to compete in the women’s 200m on Monday, was forced to pack and ordered to fly home early by Belarusian officials on Sunday night.

She was taken to Tokyo’s Haneda airport against her will after she criticised the team’s last-minute decision to enlist her in another race.

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Tsimanouskaya, 24, told Reuters she had sought the protection of Japanese police at Tokyo’s Haneda airport so she would not have to board the flight.

“I will not return to Belarus,” she said.

“They are trying to get me out of the country without my permission,” she said in a video posted on the Telegram channel of the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF), a group that supports athletes jailed or sidelined for their political views.

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”.

However, Tsimanouskaya previously alleged in a video that she was entered by Belarusian officials into Thursday’s 400m relay event on short notice, BBC reports.

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State media criticised Tsimanouskaya for lacking “team spirit” after her complaint.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was to compete in the 200m on Monday. Photo: AAP

The International Olympic Committee said it had spoken to Tsimanouskaya and that she was accompanied by a Tokyo 2020 organiser at the airport.

“She has told us she feels safe,” the IOC said in a tweet. It added the IOC and Tokyo 2020 would continue their conversations with Tsimanouskaya and the authorities “to determine the next steps in the upcoming days”.

Earlier, a Reuters photographer saw the athlete standing next to police at the airport. “I think I am safe,” Tsimanouskaya said. “I am with the police.”

In the video published by the BSSF earlier, Tsimanouskaya had asked the IOC to get involved in her case.

A source at the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation said Tsimanouskaya planned to request asylum in Germany or Austria on Monday.

Belarus, a former Soviet state, is run with a tight grip by President Alexander Lukashenko. In power since 1994, he faced a wave of protests last year, which some athletes joined.

Tsimanouskaya ran in the women’s 100 metres heats on Friday and was scheduled to run in the 200 metres heats on Monday, along with the 4×400 metres relay on Thursday.

She said she had been removed from the team due “to the fact that I spoke on my Instagram about the negligence of our coaches”.

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Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya urged the IOC to take up the athlete’s case.

“Grateful to #IOC for the quick reaction to the situation with the Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsymanouskaya. She has a right to international protection & to continue participation in the @Olympics,” Tsikhanouskaya tweeted.

“It is also crucial to investigate Belarus’ NOC violations of athletes’ rights.”

President Lukashenko was faced with mass street protests last year over what his opponents called rigged elections, and ordered a violent crackdown on protesters. Lukashenko denies the allegations of vote-rigging.

Unusually in a country where elite athletes often rely on government funding, some prominent Belarusian athletes joined the protests.

Several were jailed, including Olympic basketball player Yelena Leuchanka and decathlete Andrei Krauchanka.

– with AAP

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