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Belarus Olympian safe in Tokyo hotel after refusing ‘forced’ flight home

media captionKrystsina Tsimanouskaya asked the International Olympic Committee for help

A Belarusian Olympian who refused her team’s order to fly home early is safe after seeking protection from Japanese police, Games officials have said.

They say sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, spent the night in a hotel at Tokyo’s Haneda airport.

She says she was forcefully taken to the airport on Sunday for criticising coaches. Belarus says her “emotional condition” was the reason for the move.

The Czech Republic and Poland say they are ready to offer the athlete a visa.

Tsimanouskaya is now said to be considering seeking asylum in Europe.

At Monday’s news briefing in Tokyo, International Olympic Committee (IOC) spokesman Mark Adams said Tsimanouskaya was being looked after by the Japanese authorities. He said the UN refugee agency was also involved.

Mr Adams added that Belarus’ National Olympic Committee (NOC) had been asked for a full written report into the issue. The IOC and the Japanese authorities will also be holding further consultations.

On Sunday, Tsimanouskaya sought police protection at Haneda’s terminal so she would not have to board the flight, voicing fears for her safety if she were to be returned to Belarus.

The flight took off without Tsimanouskaya on board.

image sourceReuters

image captionThe athlete sought police protection at the airport terminal

The sprinter, who was due to compete in the women’s 200m event on Monday, had earlier complained on social media about being entered into another race at short notice after some teammates were found to be ineligible to compete.

The video led to criticism in state media, with one television channel saying she lacked “team spirit”.

On Sunday, she claims officials came to her room and gave her an hour to pack her bags before being escorted to Haneda.

She says she was “put under pressure” by team officials to return home and asked the IOC for help.

“They are trying to get me out of the country without my permission,” she said in a video posted on the Telegram channel of the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF), a group that supports athletes jailed or sidelined for their political views.

Belarus’ NOC said she had been taken off the team because of her “emotional and psychological condition”.

Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, the BSSF’s Anatol Kotau said: “She’s afraid of repression on her family in Belarus – this is the main concern for her right now.”

The BSSF was set up in August 2020 to support athletes during protests against President Alexander Lukashenko, re-elected last year in a disputed presidential vote.

Government forces brutally cracked down after hundreds of thousands protested about the election. Some of those who took part were also national-level athletes, who were stripped of funding, cut from national teams and detained for demonstrating.

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