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Firstpost Explains: Why Belarus sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya refuses to go home from Olympics

·6 min read

Besides the medal-winning, inspiring performances, there are many interesting off-the-field stories coming in from Tokyo Olympics 2020.

Even before the Olympics began, A Ugandan weightlifter made global headlines by disappearing in Japan.

The anti-Olympics protests continue to take place outside the sporting venues as well as Games Village.

And now a new story has come out of Japan in which a foreign athlete is refusing to go back to her country.

She is Belarus' Kristina Timanovskaya, a sprinter, who refuses to leave Japan for her country.

What's the story?

Timanovskaya ranted in an Instagram story about being forced to take part in the 400m relay race without being given a prior notice. "It turns out our great bosses as always decided everything for us," she had said on the social networking platform.

She had come to Tokyo to take part in 200m event. While that story has disappeared from Instagram, she later put up another post on Instagram in which she said that she would not have "reacted so harshly if I had been told in advance, explained the whole situation and asked if I was able to run 400 metres. But they decided to do everything behind my back."

This public criticism of her federation did not go down well with the bosses at the helm of things over there and on Sunday, the Belarusian Olympic Committee (BOC) asked her to immediately leave Games and took her to airport.

At airport, she recorded a video and sent it across to Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF), which is run by retired Belarusian swimmer Aliaksandra Herasimenia. She had sold her gold medal to form this Foundation last August after the disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko.

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Now, the BSSF posted a video of her on Telegram in which she is heard saying she is being deported from Japan without her permission. "I am under pressure and they are trying to take me out of the country without my consent. I ask the International Olympic Committee to interfere," Timanovskaya said in the video.

In reply to the accusation, BOC released a statement that Timanovskaya left the competition following medical advice because of her "emotional and psychological state". The BSSF quoted Timanovskaya as saying this was "not true" and she was not examined by doctors. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) in a statement to AFP said "The IOC has seen the reports in the media, is looking into the situation and has asked the NOC (Belarus Olympic officials) for clarification."

About three hours or so later, BSSF posted another video of Timanovskaya on Telegram, in which she is saying that she is safe, under the protection of police.

Timanovskaya's story is not merely a clash between her and the BOC but that of her versus the political leadership in her country. She is right now at the centre of a political war.

Belarus is being governed by an authoritarian government of Alexander Lukashenko has been accused of crushing opponents and independent media. Apparently, her opinions were not liked by the higher authorities in her country and that is what led to her attempted deportation.

In an interview with Belarusian sports website tribuna.com, Tsimanouskaya said officials had given her less than an hour to pack her things before taking her to the airport. She said the head coach Yuri Moisevich told her that her fate was being decided "not on the level of (the athletics federation), not on the level of the sports ministry, but much higher up."

File image of Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko at his inauguration ceremony at the Palace of the Independence in Minsk, Belarus. AP
File image of Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko at his inauguration ceremony at the Palace of the Independence in Minsk, Belarus. AP

File image of Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko at his inauguration ceremony at the Palace of the Independence in Minsk, Belarus. AP

"I am safe and they are in the process of deciding where I am going to spend the night." The IOC then said that Timanovskaya was safe with the authorities at the airport and that there is a staff member with her from Tokyo 2020.

In this image made from video provided by NTV, Belarus Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya enters the Polish embassy in Tokyo, Japan. NTV via AP
In this image made from video provided by NTV, Belarus Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya enters the Polish embassy in Tokyo, Japan. NTV via AP

In this image made from video provided by NTV, Belarus Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya enters the Polish embassy in Tokyo, Japan. NTV via AP

Belarusian politics

To understand the story around Timanovskaya, it is very important to know understand the political climate in Belarus. Maybe why she does not want to return and fears the BOC is explained in this understanding.

This is not the first time the 24-year-old sprinter has openly expressed herself on Instagram against an authority. Last year when the long-serving authoritarian leader claimed that he has won a sixth presidential term, it sparked mass protests all across the country. Belarusian security forces unleashed a crackdown against the protests, detaining thousands of demonstrators and pushing opposition leaders into exile. Tsimanouskaya was one of more than 2,000 Belarusian sports figures who signed an open letter last year calling for new elections and for all political prisoners to be freed following the mass protests.

Some athletes were also briefly detained in the protests, including a kickboxing champion and an Olympic medallist. In August last year, Tsimanouskaya had called for an end to repression. "I am against any kind of repression, I am for peace, for honesty, for freedom of speech," she said in a post on Instagram underneath a photo of her holding the Belarusian flag.

Shortly before the Tokyo Games, Lukashenko had warned sports officials and athletes that he expected results in Tokyo. "Think about it before going," he said. "If you come back with nothing, it's better for you not to come back at all. At present, the Belarus state TV is calling her "a person that has nothing to do with the Olympic movement" and political commentators are doubting a foreign influence in the whole episode.

Where is she going now?

Timanovskaya spent one night in Tokyo and she is set to take the flight to Warsaw possibly next week as Poland government has offered to give her asylum. Timanovskaya too has fled to Kiev in Ukraine and told AFP that he is expected to join his wife in Poland soon.

"I believe it would not be safe for me to be there (in Belarus)," the 25-year-old fitness trainer told AFP by phone. As per Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz , she is currently at the Polish embassy in Tokyo. AFP quoted him saying, "the athlete was safe on the grounds of our embassy in Tokyo".

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Not only that, he also said that Warsaw has granted her a humanitarian visa and would do "whatever is necessary to help her to continue her sporting career".

With AFP inputs

Also See: Tokyo Olympics 2020: Czech Republic offer asylum to Belarus athlete Kristina Timanovskaya

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