EU, U.S. Sharply Critical Of Attempt To Force Belarusian Athlete To Return Home

The attempt to force Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya to return home early from the Tokyo Olympics has been criticized as another example of the repression of Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime.
Tsimanouskaya took refuge in the Polish Embassy in Tokyo on August 2 after refusing orders from her coaches to fly home. Nabila Massrali, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, said the incident is another example that Lukashenka's regime “hits all categories of Belarusian society, including athletes, and does not respect any Olympic truce." U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Lukashenka’s government has committed “another act of transnational repression” by attempting to force Tsimanouskaya to leave “simply for exercising free speech." Such actions "violate the Olympic spirit, are an affront to basic rights, and cannot be tolerated." Blinken said on Twitter.
Tsimanouskaya, 24, was seen entering the Polish Embassy after appealing for Japanese and international help to avoid being put on the flight back to Belarus. Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski confirmed that Poland has issued Tsimanouskaya a humanitarian visa. Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told a news conference on August 3 that she is "in a safe situation." The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has demanded an explanation from the Belarusian National Olympic Committee (NOC), which is led by Lukashenka’s eldest son, Viktar. The activist group Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) said it has purchased Tsimanouskaya’s plane ticket, and she will fly on August 4 to Poland, where she plans to seek asylum. Alyaksandr Opeikin, a spokesman for BSSF, which supports opposition athletes, told Current Time that Tsimanouskaya has already spoken with the IOC and with the press. "It is clear that this is a stressful situation not only for the athlete but also for the person -- to be under such pressure," Opeikin said.
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, leader of the Belarusian opposition, told CNN that her organization will ask for international protection for Tsimanouskaya. “No doubt, [she] is our hero; she found the courage to speak out and faced repressions for her bravery. We should express solidarity and stand with her,” Tsikhanouskaya said, according to CNN reporter Jim Sciutto on Twitter.
Multiple reports said Tsimanouskaya's husband, Arseniy Zhdanevich, had traveled to Ukraine from Belarus, and is preparing to join his wife in Poland. He was quoted as saying he is safe in Ukraine and has not yet had contact with his wife. Zhdanevich said he had not received any direct threats but decided abruptly to leave Belarus on August 1 believing that he “would not be allowed to work and live in peace.” Tsimanouskaya has expressed fears she could face arrest in her homeland over criticism she aired on social media of her coaches' decision to enter her in a race she had not prepared to run. Tsimanouskaya competed in preliminary rounds of the 100-meter dash last week, failing to advance, and expected to run in the 200-meter race. When her coaches moved to enter her in the 4x400m relay, she criticized the decision but also sought a ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to overturn it. The CAS in a statement on August 3 outlined the legal steps Tsimanouskaya took in the hours after she sought protection. The statement said the court denied Tsimanouskaya’s request because she “was not able to prove her case to get an interim relief” without giving details.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

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