Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, an Olympic sprinter from Belarus, lit a fuse over the weekend when she criticized her coaches for their decisions regarding the Olympic team. For instance, for their last-minute decision to assign her to a 4X400 relay, a race she’s never run. For her criticism, she was banned by her coaches from competing in her own event, the 200 meters.
After a tense weekend, Tsimanouskaya’s team officials ordered her to fly home from Tokyo to Belarus. They forced her to the airport, but Japanese security prevented her from being taken aboard a plane home.
The officials “made it clear that, upon return home, I would definitely face some form of punishment,” Tsimanouskaya told the Associated Press in a videocall from Tokyo on Tuesday. “There were also thinly disguised hints that more would await me.”
In Belarus, criticism of the government has suffered a massive crackdown recently. Protesters decrying the recent election, which many believe was rigged, were arrested en mass–over 35,000 people. Many deaths were reported by other protesters, but the Belarus government claims there were none. Independent and opposition media have been suppressed.
Press reached Dzmitry Dauhalionak, the head of Belarus’ delegation at the Tokyo Olympics, by phone but declined to comment.
On Wednesday, August 4, Krystsina Tsimanouskaya landed in Warsaw, Poland, on a humanitarian visa. She continues to insist that she would not be safe to return to her own country. Her husband, Arseni Zdanevich, was also able to leave the country. He is in Ukraine currently, and will soon join Tsimanouskaya in Poland when his own visa comes through. The couple is still worried about their families in Belarus.
Two other Belarus athletes, following the commotion, have also announced their intentions to remain abroad, including heptathlete Yana Maksimava and her husband. The International Olympic Committee is looking into the industry and may sanction Belarus in whole or in part.