High Drama at Olympics as Belarus Sprinter Seeks Refuge in Polish Embassy

The belarus sprinter was taken to the airport against her will because she had criticised her team’s coaching staff

A Belarusian sprinter refused to get on a flight from Tokyo on Sunday after being taken to the airport against her wishes by her team following her complaints about national coaching staff at the Olympic Games.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, sought protection from Japanese police at Haneda airport late on Sunday. Early on Monday, Japanese lawmaker Taiga Ishikawa tried to visit her at the sub-precinct at the airport but police told him she was no longer there.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, sought police protection on Sunday during a Tokyo airport standoff to avoid returning to Belarus, where she believes her life would be in danger.

The sprinter, who said she was taken to the airport against her will because she had criticized her team’s coaching staff, has now been granted a humanitarian visa by Poland. She said on her Instagram account that she was put in the 4×400 relay even though she has never raced in the event, after which Belarusian sports officials announced that she was returning home.

Japan said on Tuesday that it is keeping a Belarusian Olympian who took refuge in the Polish embassy “safe”. Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Tuesday: “We, in cooperation with relevant parties, are trying to keep her safe”.

“She is now in a safe situation,” he added.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced a formal investigation into the incident and the United States condemned Belarus’s attempts to send her home as intolerable “transnational repression”.  

Tsimanouskaya spent the night in Poland’s embassy in Tokyo after arriving there on Monday evening. Warsaw has denounced what it calls a “criminal attempt” to kidnap the athlete.

“We have made sure that Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is safe in the Polish embassy in Tokyo and we will, if necessary, offer her the possibility of continuing her career,” Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Facebook.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has cracked down on any form of dissent since mass protests erupted after elections last year that were deemed unfair by the West.

Tsimanouskaya was one of more than 2,000 Belarusian sports figures who signed an open letter calling for new elections and for political prisoners to be freed.

Poland is a staunch critic of Lukashenko’s regime and has become home to a growing number of dissidents.

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