Belarus Olympian Krystsina Tsimanouskaya feared 'some form of punishment' back home amid row

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Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, the Belarusian sprinter who refused to board a flight back to her home country over the weekend, revealed Tuesday that team officials “made it clear” she would face discipline if she went back.

Tsimanouskaya criticized her coaches for putting her into an event she never trained for and accused officials of hurrying her to an airport and trying to put her on a plane back to Belarus. Poland granted her a humanitarian visa Monday.

Team officials “made it clear that, upon return home, I would definitely face some form of punishment,” she told the Associated Press. “There were also thinly disguised hints that more would await me.”

She hoped that she could continue her career once she found safety.

“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,” she said adding, “for now, the only thing that concerns me is my safety.”

Tsimanouskaya said her coaching staff came to her room Sunday and told her to pack and she was taken to Haneda Airport by Belarusian Olympic team reps, according to Reuters. 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The Belarusian Olympic Committee said Tsimanouskaya was withdrawn from the Olympics on doctors’ advice concerning her “emotion, psychological state.”

Tsimanouskaya said she was removed from the 200-meter race and lost an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport to run in the event anyway. She called for an investigation into who removed her from the race.

The Belarusian government has targeted anyone even mildly expressing dissent since last year after a presidential election triggered mass protests in the country. Many critics of the Belarusian government have fled to Poland.

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 denied her issues had anything to do with the government.

“I don’t want to get involved in politics. For me, my career is important, only sports is important, and I’m only thinking about my future, about how I can continue my career,” she said.

Poland Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he spoke with Tsimanouskaya.

“I assured her that she could count on support and solidarity from Poland. In the coming days, she will fly to Warsaw, where she will be able to develop without any obstacles and, if she wishes, will receive further help,” he tweeted.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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