Kristina Timanovskaya: Poland grants humanitarian visa to Belarusian Olympic sprinter



Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz announced on Twitter that Timanovskaya had obtained the visa. “Poland will do whatever is necessary to help them continue their sporting career. [Poland] is always synonymous with solidarity, “he posted.

Earlier Monday, Reuters reported that Timanovskaya was seen entering the Polish embassy.

Late Sunday, the 24-year-old Olympic athlete was transferred from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and “secured by police in a special shelter,” where she was “said to have been” safe for now, “according to Anatol Kotau, of Belarus Sports Solidarity. Foundation, which represents athletes repressed by Belarusian authorities.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said earlier Monday that Timanovskaya had spent the night in an airport hotel and was in the hands of Japanese authorities.

IOC spokesperson Mark Adams told a daily press briefing that the IOC has asked the Belarusian National Olympic Committee for a full written report on the situation.

“We are speaking to her again this morning to understand what the next steps might be and what she wants to pursue, and we will support her in this decision,” Adams said, adding that the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) involved in his case.

Timanovskaya was due to compete in the women’s 200-meter at the Tokyo Olympics on Monday, but said representatives of the Belarusian national team attempted to forcibly return her to her home country after criticizing national sports authorities for the have entered the 4×400 meter relay without her. consent.

Belarusian athlete Kristina Timanovskaya is escorted by police at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, Japan on August 1.

Kotau, who is in direct contact with Timanovskaya, said team officials came to the Olympic Village on Sunday afternoon and asked her “to pack her things as a decision was made to return her to Minsk “. She was due to leave on a 10:50 p.m. flight to Istanbul, but upon arriving at the airport, Timanovskaya approached a Japanese police officer and asked him to seek political asylum, Kotau said.

“I am afraid of being imprisoned in Belarus,” Timanovskaya said on Sunday in an interview with Belarusian sports news site Tribuna. “I am not afraid of being fired or expelled from the national team. I am worried about my safety. And I think that at the moment it is not safe for me in Belarus. I have nothing did, but they deprived me of gave me the right to participate in the 200-meter race and I wanted to send me home. “

Throughout the Cold War, many athletes defected from the Soviet Union and the Communist countries of the Eastern Bloc to major sports competitions abroad. Although such acts have become rarer since the fall of the Soviet Union, defections of other nations continue to occur.

Last month Ugandan weightlifter Julius Ssekitoleko, 20, disappeared after leaving a note saying his life in Uganda was too difficult and he wanted to work in Japan. He was found and transferred to police custody. Several African Olympians were reportedly missing from the London 2012 Games, with Eritrean flag-bearing runner Weynay Ghebresilasie among asylum seekers in the UK.

Unlike these athletes, however, Timanovskaya does not appear to have any intention of defecting for political reasons, and instead appears to have been forced to act after denouncing an official decision to include her in a race she did not. not run before. .

Sports and politics in Belarus

Timanovskaya did not say exactly why she feared imprisonment, but Belarusian athletes have faced reprisals, arrested and kicked out of national teams for criticizing the government in the wake of mass protests by the last year against longtime strongman Alexander Lukashenko.
Thousands of people were arrested during the protests, which were brutally suppressed by the authorities amid reports of abuse and torture.

The Belarusian leader ruled the country for 27 years and was the head of the country’s National Olympic Committee (NOC) for decades before his eldest son Viktor took over in February.

However, the IOC refused to recognize Lukashenko’s son, saying in a statement that the Belarusian NOC had “failed to adequately protect Belarusian athletes against political discrimination”. In December, the IOC banned Lukashenko and his son from attending the Tokyo Games.
On Sunday, Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya called on the IOC and the Japanese authorities to ensure the safety of Timanovskaya and to investigate the management of the Belarusian NOC. She spoke about the detention of a dissident journalist who was arrested after his Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was hijacked and forced to land in Belarus in May.
"All Belarusians are hostages of the Lukashenko regime","  say citizens are now cut off from Europe

“The regime’s hijacking of the Ryanair plane was just the start of Lukashenka’s international terror. They kidnapped Pratasevich and Sapega, they tried to kidnap Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsymanouskaya. I call the authorities and the IOC to ensure the safety of all Belarusian athletes, “Tikhanovskaya said in a tweet.

The Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) was established in August 2020 during anti-government protests against the disputed re-election of Lukashenko, who has held power in the Eastern European nation since 1994. It provides legal and financial support athletes who have been targeted for expressing their political views.

BSSF’s Kotau said Timanovskaya would decide on Monday where to seek asylum. She has so far received statements from Japan, Poland and the Czech Republic, each offering visas.

Timanovskaya spoke out against Belarusian sports officials

Timanovskaya told Belarusian sports newspaper Tribuna that she had never competed in the 400 meters and was “outraged” by the decision to include it in the relay event.

“Never in my life would I start to react so harshly if they came to me ahead of time and explained the situation to me and found out if I can run 400 meters and I’m ready?” But they decided to do it all behind my back despite the fact that I tried to find this information but was ignored, “she wrote in an Instagram post on Friday.

While his comments don’t seem political, his apparent criticism of an official decision struck a chord in a country where dissent has been increasingly punished, especially since last year’s elections.

After recording a video on Instagram expressing her frustrations, she said that “(team leaders) started calling me with threats and demanding to delete the video if I want to move forward in the sport. At first I refused to delete it for a long time, but then I did, so they would stop calling me. “

The Belarusian NOC said on Sunday that Timanovskaya had been withdrawn from the Games due to her “emotional and psychological state”, a claim disputed by the athlete.

Kristina Timanovskaya of Belarus competes in the women's 100 meters at the Olympic Games in Tokyo on July 30.

“According to the conclusion of doctors, due to the emotional and psychological state of Belarusian athletic athlete Kristina Timanovskaya, the coaching staff of the national athletics team decided to stop the performance of the athlete at the Games of the XXXII Olympics, “the committee said in a statement on its Facebook page.

“Therefore, the athlete’s request to participate in the qualifying races for the 200 meters and the 4×400 meter relay has been withdrawn,” he added.

Timanovskaya said a psychologist came to talk to her in a way she called “nonsense”.

“No doctor came to see me. No one examined me,” she said. “I have a good psychological state, even in spite of the fact that such a situation was happening. I am holding up normally, I have no health problems, no trauma, no mental problems. I was ready to run. . ”

Timanovskaya said that Yuri Moisevich, the head coach of the national athletics team, told him that “this problem is no longer at the level of the (athletics) federation, nor at the level of the Ministry of Sports , but at a higher level. “

“That I should be knocked out of the Olympics, come home, because I’m hampering the performance of the team,” she said.

According to the BSSF, Timanovskaya’s husband has left Belarus and is in a “safe place”.

CNN has contacted Timanovksaya, the Belarusian national Olympic team and the Belarusian embassy in Tokyo for more information, but has not received a response.

CNN’s Gawon Bae, Chandler Thornton, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Hannah Ritchie, Tara John, and Olga Pavlova contributed to this report. Reuters additional reports.


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