Japan: Belarus runner involved in airport standoff is safe

Jul 31, 2021, 8:20 PM | Updated: Aug 2, 2021, 1:51 am

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s government said a Belarus track sprinter was safe Monday after she alleged her Olympic team tried to remove her from Japan in a dispute that led to a standoff at Tokyo’s main airport.

An activist group supporting Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said she believed her life was in danger in Belarus and she would seek asylum with the Austrian Embassy in Tokyo.

Japanese government spokesman Katsunobu Kato told reporters that Japan was cooperating with other organizations “to take appropriate measures,” and confirmed that Tsimanouskaya was safe. The Foreign Ministry said Japan was working with the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo Olympics organizers.

Tsimanouskaya said in a filmed message distributed on social media that she was pressured by Belarus team officials and asked the IOC for help.

“I was put under pressure and they are trying to forcibly take me out of the country without my consent,” the 24-year-old runner said.

Tsimanouskaya, who is due to run in the Olympic 200-meter heats Monday, criticized Belarus team officials on her Instagram account. She said she’d been put in the 4×400 relay despite never racing the event.

The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation said government supporters targeted the athlete, and Tsimanouskaya contacted the group for help to avoid what she feared was a forced deportation to Minsk.

“The campaign was quite serious and that was a clear signal that her life would be in danger in Belarus,” Alexander Opeikin, a spokesman for the BSSF, told The Associated Press in an interview.

Tsimanouskaya summoned Japanese police at Haneda Airport and did not board a flight departing for Istanbul. Foreign ministry officials arrived later at the airport, Opeikin said.

In a statement released by the BSSF, Tsimanouskaya said she was in a police station early Monday morning.

“I explained the situation to a police officer of how I was taken from the Olympic Village,” she said. “Now I am in a secure situation and am figuring out the question of where I will spend the night.”

The IOC, which has been in dispute with the Belarus National Olympic Committee ahead of the Tokyo Games, said it had intervened.

“The IOC … is looking into the situation and has asked the NOC for clarification,” it said in a statement.

Belarus’ neighbor, Poland, where many critics of the Minsk regime have come to live, offered help to Tsimanouskaya. Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz said on Twitter that Tsimanouskaya has been offered a “humanitarian visa and is free to pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses.”

The Belarus National Olympic Committee has been led for more than 25 years by authoritarian state president Alexander Lukashenko and his son, Viktor.

Both Lukashenkos are banned from the Tokyo Olympics by the IOC, which investigated complaints from athletes that they faced reprisals and intimidation in fallout from protests since last August after the country’s disputed presidential election.

A spokeswoman for the Belarus Olympic team did not respond to a request for comment.

Tsimanouskaya was taken to a safe place and would ask for asylum from the Austrian embassy, Opeikin said.

Tsimanouskaya already competed for Belarus on the first day of track events Friday at the National Stadium in Tokyo. She placed fourth in her first-round heat in the 100 meters, timing 11.47 seconds, and did not advance.

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Kozin reported from Moscow.

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Japan: Belarus runner involved in airport standoff is safe