NEWS
02/08/2021 16:53 BST

Why One Athlete 'Feared For Her Life' At The Tokyo Olympics

Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was 'forced' to get on a flight back home after criticising her coaches.

Ivan Romano via Getty Images
Tokyo Olympic athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya of Belarus during the Women's 200m Final at the 2019 Summer Universiade in Naples, Italy.

It might feel like female athletes are making big strides at the Tokyo Olympics. 

Simone Biles has spoken out about her mental health, Sara Gamal became the first hijab-wearing woman to referee basketball at the Games, and Rebeca Andrade made history for Brazil by becoming the country’s first female Olympic champion in gymnastics.

But for Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, the picture couldn’t be more different.

GIUSEPPE CACACE via Getty Images
Belarus' Krystsina Tsimanouskaya (L) has been granted a humanitarian visa by Poland.

The 24-year-old refused to board a flight back to her home country on Sunday after being taken to the airport “against her will” for criticising her coaches on social media.

Tsimanouskaya said she feared for her life, according to the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation. Spokesperson Alexander Opeikin told The Associated Press: “The campaign was quite serious and that was a clear signal that her life would be in danger in Belarus.”

She has now been given a humanitarian visa by the Polish government after she arrived at the country’s embassy in Tokyo on Monday.

I was put under pressure and they are trying to forcibly get me out of the country without my permission.Krystsina Tsimanouskaya

How did we get here?

Tsimanouskaya had already competed in the 100m heats at the Tokyo Olympics and was due to race in the 200m heats on Monday and 4x400m relay on Thursday.

Reports suggest Tsimanouskaya was unhappy about competing in the relay event. Her video message on social media mentioned she was being pressured by Belarus team officials and asked the International Olympic Committee for help.

She is now doing well and is “safe” according to the IOC.

Belarus’ Olympic committee said the decision to withdraw Tsimanouskaya was because of her “emotional and psychological state”. They say they will be working closely with the Tokyo Olympics Committee and the IOC to monitor the situation. 

YUKI IWAMURA via Getty Images
Belarus athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya.

Why would Krystsina Tsimanouskaya be scared of going home?

Belarus is a country in Eastern Europe bordered by Poland, Ukraine and Russia.

It’s been under a spotlight since the election in August 2020 when the long-standing president Alexander Lukashenko was re-elected.

Lukashenko has been in power since 1994. His political opposition criticised the election results for being being rigged to keep him in as president.

Following the election results, thousands of people protested and hundreds were detained.

There were weeks of police violence in the capital Minsk and other cities.

AFP via Getty Images
Opposition supporters parade through the streets during a rally to protest against the Belarus presidential election results in Minsk on October, 2020.

Athletes were among some of the people protesting. They faced cuts to funding and some were detained by police.

Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, the IOC had banned some Belarusian officials, including the president’s son, for not doing enough to support athletes who took part in the political protests.

Back in May, Belarusian journalist and activist Roman Protasevich was arrested after authorities caused the Ryanair flight he was on to land abruptly. 

Some countries accused Belarus of hijacking the plane.