Belarus sprinter leaves Tokyo for Vienna after refusing to go home

Seeking refuge: Belarus’ Krystsina Tsimanouskaya (centre) walking through Terminal 1 before boarding her Vienna-bound flight at Narita International Airport. —AFP

TOKYO: Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya left Tokyo aboard a flight to Vienna, less than 72 hours after refusing to return home with her team.

After spending two nights in Poland’s embassy, the 24-year-old walked onto the plane at Narita airport wearing blue jeans, a blue blouse and sunglasses with “I RUN CLEAN” written on them.

The sprinter caused a diplomatic incident on Sunday when she said her coaches had cut her Tokyo Games short, demanding she pack her bags at the Olympic Village and taking her to the airport against her wishes because she had publicly criticised them.

She refused to board the flight and sought the protection of Japanese police.

“I will not return to Belarus,” she said at the time.

Tsimanouskaya had been scheduled to board a flight for Warsaw yesterday after Poland’s government offered her a humanitarian visa. Instead, she departed on an Austrian Airlines flight scheduled to land in Vienna.

She will go to Poland later, said a member of the Belarusian community in touch with Tsimanouskaya, who also said that diplomats had told her that they changed her flight due to security concerns.

The source did not specify the concerns and reporters could not independently verify them.

Poland’s deputy foreign minister Marcin Przydacz confirmed the athlete was still in the care of the Polish diplomatic services, but did not say where she would eventually land.

“Ms Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is under the care of the Polish diplomatic service,” Przydacz said in a text message.

“As we have indicated many times, for safety reasons we do not provide details of the flight route.”

The Austrian foreign ministry confirmed she was on the flight to Vienna, but declined to comment on her final destination.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said yesterday they had received a report from the Belarusian team after they started an investigation into Tsimanouskaya’s claims she had been removed from the athlete’s village.

“The IOC are opening a disciplinary commission to establish the facts in this case and to hear the two officials – Artur Shumak and Yuri Moisevich – who had been allegedly involved in this incident,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has accused Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime of intolerable “transnational repression” in the matter.

The incident has focused attention on Belarus, where police have cracked down on dissent following a wave of protests triggered by an election last year which the opposition says was rigged to keep Lukashenko in power.

Belarusian authorities have characterised anti-government protesters as criminals or violent revolutionaries backed by the West, and described the actions of their own law enforcement agencies as appropriate and necessary. — Reuters

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