September 17, 2021

Tokyo Olympics: Belarusian sprinter says she would have faced punishment if she returned home

August 03, 2021

The Belarusian Olympic sprinter who refused to board a plane home from the Games has said officials from her country "made it clear" she would face punishment if she returned.

Krystina Tsimanouskaya, 24, has accused her national team's officials of trying to force her to fly to Minsk after she criticised the coaching staff on social media.

After spending a night at an airport hotel, she received a humanitarian visa by Poland and is planning to fly to Warsaw this week and seek refuge in Europe.

"They made it clear that upon return home I would definitely face some form of punishment," she said. "There were also thinly disguised hints that more would await me."

In an interview with the Associated Press news agency, Tsimanouskaya also said she believed she would be kicked off the national team, and demanded an investigation into who gave the order to withdraw her from Tokyo Olympics.

"For now I just want to safely arrive in Europe... meet with people who have been helping me... and make a decision what to do next," she said.

She added: "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."

Belarus National Olympic Committee is headed by the country's authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko and his son Viktor.

Tsimanouskaya's husband, Arseniy Zdanevich, has also left Belarus for Ukraine.

Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya met with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday morning as pressure mounts on the Minsk regime following the treatment of the Olympic sprinter.

The PM told Ms Tsikhanouskaya: "We are very much on your side, we are very much supportive of what you are doing. We are committed to supporting human rights and civil society in Belarus."

Ms Tsikhanouskaya said: "It is very important to understand that one of the most powerful countries in the world are supporting Belarus."

Mr Johnson then replied: "We strongly support you, strongly support Belarus, the Belarusian people and I think we were among the first to put in sanctions after the hijacking of Roman Protasevich, the flight that was diverted."

The Belarusian opposition leader thanked the PM for his support and described the meeting as "warm".

A Downing Street spokesperson said Mr Johnson "condemned the Lukashenko regime's severe human rights violations and persecution of pro-democracy figures, including both Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and her husband".

"The prime minister outlined the steps the UK has taken to hold the regime to account, including placing sanctions on Lukashenko himself," they added.

"He stressed the UK's commitment to the Belarusian people, in particular through tripling our financial support to Belarusian civil society this year.

"The prime minister and Mrs Tikhanovskaya agreed that the British and Belarusian people share fundamental values such as a belief in democracy, human rights and rule of law.

"The prime minister said the UK stands in solidarity of the people of Belarus and will continue to take action to support them."

And posting on social media, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab added that the UK is "unwavering" in its "support for the democratic movement in Belarus".

"We stand in solidarity with the Belarusian people, civil society and an independent media," he said.

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