Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is headed to Poland after refusing to fly home from the Tokyo Olympics two days ago over fears that she would face punishment from the authoritarian government.
Tsimanouskaya arrived early on August 4 at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport from the Polish Embassy, where the 24-year-old athlete took refuge on August 2 after refusing to allow Belarusian team officials to force her onto a flight to Minsk a day earlier. Tsimanouskaya arrived at the airport in a police-escorted van and did not talk to a group of waiting reporters, but she told the AP earlier in a video interview that team officials had “made it clear that, upon return home, I would definitely face some form of punishment.” She said the tipping point for her was when team managers told her that “other people” had ordered them to send her home from the Olympics and they were “merely ordered to make it happen,” she feared she would be in danger if she returned to Belarus. Dzmitry Dauhalionak, the head of Belarus's delegation at the Olympics, declined to comment, saying that he has “no words,” according to the AP. Earlier, Belarus’s National Olympic Committee told a state-run news agency that it was closely monitoring the situation and cooperating with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which on August 3 launched an investigation into Tsimanouskaya’s accusations. Tsimanouskaya’s troubles began when she said her coaches told her she would be participating in an event she had never competed in. She then criticized them on social media and accused officials of an attempted kidnapping to forcibly repatriate her.
Tsimanouskaya dismissed any notion that she had planned to seek a way to depart to a third country.
“Everything that is happening now absolutely wasn’t in my plans,” Tsimanouskaya told the AP. Her husband, Arsen Zdanevich, told the AP that he decided to leave Belarus when Tsimanouskaya told him she wasn’t coming back. Zdanevich is currently in Ukraine, an Interior Ministry source told Reuters. He is quoted by several news outlets as saying he is hoping to join his wife in Poland. The Olympian's plight has been internationally criticized as another attempt by the regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka to stifle dissent amid a widespread crackdown against opposition activists and the independent media following his claim of victory in an August 2020 presidential election. The sprinter, however, declined to link her problems to the political struggle in Belarus. “I don’t want to get involved in politics," she said. "For me, my career is important, only sports is important, and I’m only thinking about my future, about how I can continue my career.” She added that she expects to be kicked off the national team but said for now “the only thing that concerns me is my safety.”