Olympian Krystsina Tsimanouskaya has said officials from Belarus "made it clear" she would face punishment if she returned home, after accusing team officials of trying to force her to leave the Tokyo Games early.
“They made it clear that upon return home I would definitely face some form of punishment,” the 24-year-old told the Associated Press in a videocall interview.”
“There were also thinly disguised hints that more would await me.” She added that she believed she would be kicked off of the national team.
The stand-off began after Tsimanouskaya’s criticism of how officials were managing her team set off a massive backlash in state-run media back home.
The runner said on her Instagram account that she was put in the 4x400 metres relay even though she has never raced in the event.
Her public criticism of the officials resulted in them taking to her to Haneda Airport in Tokyo, on August 2, for a short notice flight back to Belarus via Istanbul—but she refused to board the plane.
Instead, she sought protection from local police, and a stand-off ensued between Belarusian officials, police and the athlete.
Later that day, after offers of refuge from a number of countries, Tsimanouskaya was seen entering the Polish embassy in Tokyo, where she subsequently received a humanitarian visa.
Belarus has come under increased global scrutiny lately for its crackdown on human rights, including freedom of expression, especially since a disputed presidential election in 2020.
Just last month, Human Rights Watch documented widespread abuses—including harassment and detentions—by Belarusian authorities against journalists, activists and critics. And now, it appears, vocal athletes.
Tsimanouskaya’s case for refuge received a boost on Monday. In a voice recording shared online by advocacy group Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Belarusian officials are heard making veiled threats against the athlete.
Responding to Tsimanouskaya’s case, a United Nation’s spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, said: “What is important is that everyone who asks for protection, for refugee status, is afforded that opportunity... The Japanese authorities have done what they can to protect her, and I think that is the most important part. No one should be forced to go home under threat or under force.”
Despite her Games being appended, Tsimanouskaya, in an interview reported in the AP, sounded optimistic: “For now, I just want to safely arrive in Europe . . . meet with people who have been helping me and make a decision what to do next,” the AP reported her as saying.
“I would very much like to continue my sporting career because I’m just 24 and I had plans for two more Olympics, at least,” the AP reported her saying. “(But) for now, the only thing that concerns me is my safety.”