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Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said on Tuesday that she was very clearly told that she would face punishment when she returned home after her public criticism of the country at the Tokyo Olympics.
Tsimanouskaya criticized team officials on social media during the Olympics, and then said that Belarusian coaches quickly made her pack her bags and tried to force her onto a plane on Sunday back home to Belarus — even though she still had more events to run.
“[Team officials] made it clear that, upon return home, I would definitely face some form of punishment,” she said, via The Associated Press. “There were also thinly disguised hints that more would await me.”
As for what specifically made her fearful for her safety, Tsimanouskaya said that she was told the decision didn’t come from anyone in the Belarus National Olympic Committee. It came from much higher up.
“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,’” she said, via The Associated Press.
Tsimanouskaya was taken safely to the Polish embassy in Japan by Japanese officials and was later granted a humanitarian visa. She boarded a plane for Vienna on Wednesday morning.
Her husband said he plans to join her in Poland eventually, though he fled Belarus for Ukraine after learning that she wasn’t going to return. Tsimanouskaya’s parents are still in Belarus.
Tsimanouskaya complained on Instagram that she was put into the 4x400 relay in Tokyo despite never competing, and then was banned from the 200 meters — something she tried to fight legally with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but lost.
The IOC is currently investigating the incident.
Tsimanouskaya: ‘I don’t want to get involved in politics’
Belarus has a long history of jailing athletes, political activists and others who are critical of president Alexander Lukashenko.
Lukashenko, who has been dubbed “Europe’s last dictator,” was banned from the Tokyo Olympics by the International Olympic Committee after multiple scandals — including a widely disputed re-election last year. He sent fighter jets to intercept a commercial plane over Belarus airspace in May in order to arrest a dissident journalist, too. The Greek foreign ministry described that act as a “state hijacking,” and Poland’s prime minister called it an “act of state terrorism.”
The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation said that Tsimanouskaya’s life would have been in danger if she returned to the country.
While Tsimanouskaya was suddenly thrust into the Belarusian political spotlight, she insisted that she doesn’t see a future for herself in politics.
“I don’t want to get involved in politics,” she said, via The Associated Press. “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 … 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. For now, the only thing that concerns me is my safety.”
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