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Belarus sprinter receives humanitarian visa to Poland

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya has received a humanitarian visa from the Polish embassy in Tokyo.

The athlete plans to seek asylum in Poland after alleging that her team’s officials tried to send her home from Japan, where she feared she wouldn’t be safe.

The humanitarian visa was confirmed according to a Polish Foreign Ministry official on Monday.

Vadim Krivosheyev of the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation – an activist group that has been supporting the athlete – said on Monday that the group bought Tsimanouskaya, 24, a ticket to Warsaw for August 4.

The group, which the athlete contacted to avoid what she feared would be forced deportation to Minsk, said “her life would be in danger if she returned to Belarus”.

The standoff apparently began after Tsimanouskaya criticised how officials were managing her team – setting off a massive backlash in state-run media back home, where authorities relentlessly crack down on government critics.

Tsimanouskaya refused to get on a flight from Tokyo after being taken to the airport on Sunday against her wishes by her team following her complaints about national coaching staff at the Olympic Games.

She refused to board the flight, telling Reuters: “I will not return to Belarus.”

She spent the night in an airport hotel after she sought protection from Japanese police at Haneda airport, IOC spokesperson Mark Adams said at a media conference.

Tsimanouskaya said in a filmed message distributed on social media that she was pressured by Belarus team officials and asked the International Olympic Committee 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.

A number of agencies were in contact with the sprinter, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Tsimanouskaya, who was due to race in the 200m heats at Olympic Stadium on Monday had her Games cut short when she said she was taken to the airport to board a flight.

She told a Reuters reporter via Telegram that the Belarusian head coach had turned up at her room on Sunday at the athletes village and told her she had to leave.

“The head coach came over to me and said there had been an order from above to remove me,” she wrote in the message.

“At 5 (pm) they came my room and told me to pack and they took me to the airport.”

The Belarusian Olympic Committee said in a statement coaches had decided to withdraw Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors’ advice about her “emotional, psychological state”.

Belarus athletics head coach Yuri Moisevich told state television he “could see there was something wrong with her…

She either secluded herself or didn’t want to talk.”

Adams said the IOC would continue conversations with Tsimanouskaya on Monday and the Olympics governing body had asked for a full report from the Belarus Olympic committee.

The incident on Sunday highlighted discord in Belarus, a former Soviet state that is run with a tight grip by President Alexander Lukashenko.

In response to a number of questions by journalists about what the IOC would do to ensure other athletes in the village were protected, the IOC spokesperson said they were still collecting details about what exactly occurred.

He said the IOC had taken a number of actions against Belarus Olympic Committee in the run-up to the Games following nationwide protests in the country.

Coaches’ ‘negligence’ 

Tsimanouskaya ran in the women’s 100 metres heats on Friday and was scheduled to run in the 200 metres heats on Monday along with the 4×400 metres relay on Thursday.

She said she had been removed from the team due “to the fact that I spoke on my Instagram about the negligence of our coaches”.

Tsimanouskaya had complained on Instagram that she was entered in the 4x400m relay after some team members were found to be ineligible to compete at the Olympics because they had not undergone a sufficient amount of doping tests.

“Some of our girls did not fly here to compete in the 4x400m relay because they didn’t have enough doping tests,” Tsimanouskaya told Reuters from the airport.

“And the coach added me to the relay without my knowledge. I spoke about this publicly. The head coach came over to me and said there had been an order from above to remove me.”

‘Take up the athlete’s case’

Moisevich told state-owned broadcaster STV the decision had been taken to make changes to the relay team but they did not announce it immediately so as not to disrupt the athletes’ preparation.

“We intended to tell her everything, to explain it, especially as she was a reserve,” Moisevich said.

Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya urged the IOC to take up the athlete’s case.

“She has a right to international protection & to continue participation in the @Olympics,” Tsikhanouskaya wrote on Twitter.

“It is also crucial to investigate Belarus’ NOC violations of athletes’ rights.”

Tsikhanouskaya later compared the incident to the forced landing of a Ryanair jet in Minsk in May to arrest dissident blogger Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, and proposed that all those involved in the “attempted kidnapping” of Tsimanouskaya be added to EU and US sanctions lists.

“No Belarusian who has left Belarus’ borders is safe because they can be kidnapped, just like Krystsina Tsimanouskaya or Roman Protasevich,” she wrote on Telegram.

Vitaliy Utkin, a member of the Belarusian parliament, criticised Tsimanouskaya’s behaviour.

“It is betrayal and treachery, which was directed towards the Belarusian people and her fellow athletes,” STV cited Utkin as saying.

READ MORE: Lukashenko defends plane diversion, says Belarus acted ‘lawfully’

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