Belarusian sprinter, Krystsina Tsimanouskaya refused to get on a flight from Tokyo on Sunday August 1, after forcibly being taken from the Olympics to the airport by her team.
She was removed after she criticized sports officials, according to an NGO that supports athletes in conflict with Belarus’ authoritarian regime.
The 24-year-old athlete had objected publicly to being entered into the women’s 400m relay at the Games by Belarus’ athletics federation without prior notice. She said she had never raced in the event before.
Tsimanouskaya said the coaching staff had come to her room on Sunday and told her to pack. She said she was then taken to Haneda Airport by representatives of the Belarusian Olympic team.
But she refused to board the flight, telling news agency Reuters in a message over Telegram: “I will not return to Belarus.”
Tsimanouskaya asked Japanese police at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to give her protection.
She also spoke in a video posted on the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation’s (BSSF) website, asking the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to help her.
“I am under pressure and they are trying to take me out of the country without my consent. I ask the International Olympic Committee to interfere,” Tsimanouskaya said in the video.
The IOC said it had spoken to Tsimanouskaya and that she was with a Tokyo 2020 official. The statement quoted her as saying she felt “safe.”
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.”
The director of the IOC’s National Olympic Committee relations has been in contact with the athlete, Reuters reported citing an IOC official.
Tsimanouskaya ran in the women’s 100 meters heats on Friday and was scheduled to run in the 200 meters heats on Monday, along with the 4×400 meters 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.”
Tsimanouskaya had complained on Instagram that she was entered in the 4×400 meter relay after some team members were unable to compete.
“Some of our girls did not fly here to compete in the 4x400m relay because they didn’t have enough doping tests,” Tsimanouskaya told news agency Reuters from the airport.
“And the coach added me to the relay without my knowledge. I spoke about this publicly. The head coach came over to me and said there had been an order from above to remove me,” she said.
Exiled Belarusian opposition leader SviatlanaTsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter that the Olympic runner “was forced by the regime” to leave the Games and that the athlete was “afraid to come back to Minsk.”
“No athlete should be forced this way,” Tsikhanouskaya added.