Belarus athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya refuses ‘forced’ flight home

A Belarusian sprinter voiced fears for her safety as she refused an order to fly home early from the Olympics for criticising her coaches.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya says she was forced to pack before being taken to the airport in Tokyo against her will.

The 24-year-old says she sought police protection at the terminal so she would not have to board the flight.

“I think I am safe. I am with the police,” she was heard saying, as she was pictured surrounded by officers.

The sprinter, who was due to compete in the women’s 200m event on Monday, had complained on social media about being entered into another race at short notice.

She says she was “put under pressure” by team officials to return home and asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for help.

“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 IOC said it was seeking clarification from Belarussian officials – who earlier said she was taken off the team because of her “emotional and psychological condition”.

In a later message, the IOC said it had spoken to Ms Tsimanouskaya. “She has told us she feels safe,” it said.

The flight took off without Ms Tsimanouskaya on board. She is now “safe” and in police protection, the BSSF’s Anatol Kotau told the BBC.

Earlier Ms Tsimanouskaya told radio station European Radio for Belarus (ERB) she was afraid to return to her country.

She had previously alleged in a video posted online that she was entered into this Thursday’s 400m relay event at short notice by Belarusian officials, after some teammates were found to be ineligible to compete.

State media criticised her after she posted the video, with one television channel saying she lacked “team spirit”.

On Sunday, she claims officials came to her room and gave her an hour to pack her bags before being escorted to Tokyo’s Haneda airport.

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”.

The BSSF was set up in August 2020 to support athletes during protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, re-elected last year in a disputed presidential vote.

Government forces brutally cracked down after hundreds of thousands protested about the election. Some of those who took part were also national-level athletes, who were stripped of funding, cut from national teams and detained for demonstrating.

Ms Tsimanouskaya is now said to be considering seeking asylum in Europe.

Several countries, including the Czech Republic and Poland, have said they are ready to offer her a visa and protection.

But the sprinter remains “frightened” about her family’s safety, Mr Kotau of the BSSF told the BBC.

“She’s afraid of repression on her family in Belarus – this is the main concern for her right now,” he said.