Poland Offers Asylum to Belarusian Olympic Sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya Amid Safety Concerns

After a mysterious incident at the 2020 Tokyo Games, Poland offers Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya asylum.

By Elyse Dupre Aug 03, 2021 10:36 PMTags
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Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is likely breathing a sigh of relief today after being granted asylum in Poland starting Aug. 4.

Poland's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Marcin Przydacz confirmed the news on Twitter Monday, Aug. 2.

"Kryscina Tsimanouskaya a Belarusian athlet [sic] is already in direct contact with Polish diplomats in Tokyo," he wrote. "She has received a humanitarian Visa. Poland will do whatever is necessary to help her continue her sporting career. [Poland] always stands for Solidarity." 

Alexander Opeikin, executive director of Belarusian Sports Solidarity Fund, also told The New York Times that Tsimanouskaya entered the Polish Embassy in Tokyo on Aug. 2 and will fly to Warsaw on Aug. 4.

During a news conference on Aug. 3, Mark Adams, International Olympic Committee spokesman, told reporters that Tsimanouskaya is feeling "safe and secure" and talked of plans for an investigation.

"We have decided to launch, not surprisingly, a formal investigation, which will be led by the IOC administration," he said. "We need to establish the full facts. We need to hear everyone involved. That obviously can take time."

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According to The New York Times, Tsimanouskaya, 24, expressed fear for her safety after she criticized her coaches and the Belarusian Olympic Committee in a since-deleted Instagram post for putting her in the 4x400 meter relay, an event she's never competed in. Per the newspaper, Tsimanouskaya then accused the Belarusian committee of kidnapping her from the Olympic Village in Tokyo on Aug. 1 and taking her to Haneda Airport to put her on a plane leaving Japan. The Associated Press wrote that she also said in the since-deleted message that she refused to board and approached the police for help, later contacting the IOC, as well. 

AP Photo/Daniel Kozin

The New York Times reported that Belarusian journalists present at the 2020 Olympics said they'd been told Tsimanouskaya had missed a bus transporting athletes who had finished their events to the airport and that she rode in a separate car with her coach. However, the publication cited a complaint filed by the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Fund—an organization that, per its website, supports athletes who've "suffered at the hands of Belarusian authorities"—in which it claimed to have an audio recording of members of her coaching staff allegedly telling Timanovskaya she was being withdrawn from the games because of her Instagram post.

The Belarusian Olympic Committee told The New York Times that Timanovskaya, who was scheduled to compete in a 200-meter race on Aug. 2, was withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympics because of her "emotional and psychological state."

Tsimanouskaya spoke out in a video call with The Associated Press on Aug. 3. Team officials "made it clear that, upon return home, I would definitely face some form of punishment," she said. "There were also thinly disguised hints that more would await me."

Ivan Romano/Getty Images

When asked what made her think she would be in danger upon returning to the Eastern European country of Belarus, Tsimanouskaya told The AP, "The key phrase was that 'we didn't make the decision for you to go home, it was decided by other people, and we were merely ordered to make it happen.'"

Dzmitry Dauhalionak, the head of Belarus' delegation at the games, declined The AP's request for comment, noting that he had "no words."

Tsimanouskaya isn't the first athlete to seek asylum at a global sporting event, and her case is particularly complicated. Viktor Lukashenko, the president of the Belarusian Olympic Committee, is the oldest son of the country's president, Alexander Lukashenko. According to Reuters, the IOC banned both the president, who has been criticized for his brutal crackdowns on political dissidents, and his son from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics following an investigation into athletes' complaints of intimidation for speaking out against the government.

 Now, Tsimanouskaya is just hoping to continue her athletic career. "I don't want to get involved in politics," she told The AP. "For me, my career is important, only sports is important, and I'm only thinking about my future, about how I can continue my career."