Belarus' Krystsina Tsimanouskaya safe after standoff with officials at airport, Japan says

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Belarusian track sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya who was involved in an airport standoff at Tokyo’s main airport following a dispute with her Olympic team was safe Monday, the Japanese government said.

Japan was cooperating with other governments to “take appropriate measures,” Japanese government spokesperson Katsunobu Katu told reporters. Katu added that Tsimanouskaya was safe and the Foreign Ministry said Japan was working with the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020 organizers.

Tsimanouskaya said in a message on social media she was pressured by her Belarusian team and asked the IOC for help.

“I was put under pressure and “they are trying to forcibly take me out of the country without my consent,” she said.

According to Reuters, Tsimanouskaya said her coaching staff came to her room Sunday and told her to pack and then she was taken to Haneda Airport by Belarusian Olympic team reps. She told Reuters via a Telegram message she would not return to Belarus.

The Belarusian Olympic Committee said Tsimanouskaya was withdrawn from the Olympics on doctors’ advice concerning her “emotion, psychological state.”

The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) said government supporters targeted the 24-year-old athlete and she contacted the group for help to avoid what she feared was a forced deportation back to Minsk.

“The campaign was quite serious and that was a clear signal that her life would be in danger in Belarus,” BSSF spokesman Alexander Opeikin told the Associated Press.

Tsimanouskaya said in a statement through the BSSF she was at a police station.

“I explained the situation to a police officer of how I was taken from the Olympic Village,” she said. “Now I am in a secure situation and am figuring out the question of where I will spend the night.”

According to multiple reports, Tsimanouskaya was applying for political asylum at the Polish embassy. Poland Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz said in a tweet the athlete has been offered “a humanitarian visa and is free to pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses.”

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and his son, Viktor, have led the Belarus National Olympic Committee for about 25 years. Both men are banned from the Tokyo Olympics by the IOC over the organization’s investigation into complaints athletes faced reprisals and intimidation in the fallout from protests against the president in the country.

Tsimanouskaya was set to run in the 200-meter heats on Monday. She said she was removed from the 4×400-meter team after speaking out about it. She said she had never run in that race before.

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

Tsimanouskaya competed in the first day of track events on Friday at the National Stadium in Tokyo. She placed fourth in her first-round heat in the 100 meters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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