Belarus Olympian seeking asylum in Poland after refusing ‘forced’ flight home

Outside polish embassy
The sprinter was pictured entering Poland’s embassy in Tokyo

A sprinter from Belarus who refused her team’s order to fly home early from the Olympics is seeking asylum in Poland, activists say. Krystina Timanovskaya says she was forcibly taken to the airport on Sunday for criticizing coaches.

She spent the night in a hotel under protection from Japanese police, she voiced fears for her safety if she were to be returned to her country. Belarus says she was removed from the team because of her emotional state.

Ms Timanovskaya was pictured entering the Polish embassy in Tokyo on Monday and an opposition group which helps athletes in Belarus told the BBC that Ms Timanovskaya was seeking asylum in Poland.

The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation was created last year to support athletes during the nationwide protests over the disputed re-election of long-time President Alexander Lukashenko.

The country’s security forces have carried out a brutal crack down on dissent. Some of those who joined the demonstrations were also national-level athletes, who were stripped of funding, cut from national teams and detained.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya surrounded by police
The 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 the 4x400m relay 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”.

Ms Timanovskaya said officials had come to her room and given her an hour to pack her bags before being escorted to Tokyo’s Haneda airport. 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.

Anatol Kotau, a member of the group, told the BBC on Sunday: “She’s afraid of repression on her family in Belarus – this is the main concern for her right now.” The Belarusian Olympic committee said Ms Timanovskaya had been taken off the team because of her “emotional and psychological condition”.

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