Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, the Belarusian Olympian athlete who refused her team’s orders to travel home early from the Games days ago, left Tokyo on Wednesday for Europe.
The 24-year-old sprinter, who last week claimed she feared for her safety, was granted a humanitarian visa by Poland after the standoff.
After spending two nights in Poland’s embassy, she walked onto a plane at Tokyo’s Narita airport on Wednesday wearing jeans, a blue blouse and sunglasses with “I RUN CLEAN” written on them.
Before leaving Japan, Tsimanouskaya said she hoped she could continue her career but that safety was her immediate priority.
She had been expected leave the Japanese capital on a flight to Warsaw, but a Polish government source told Reuters she switched routes last minute due to security concerns after news of the plan became public and reporters booked seats on the Poland-bound flight.
She instead flew to Vienna, from where she is expected to travel to Warsaw.
Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is onboard a flight from Tokyo to Vienna #OS52 — arriving shortly.
As expected, the Boeing 777 avoided Belarusian airspace, instead flying over Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania & Poland. ✈️ pic.twitter.com/7Dniu9z5cw
— Alex Macheras (@AlexInAir) August 4, 2021
Concern was particularly high because of an incident in May, when a Ryanair flight was diverted to land in Belarus and a dissident journalist was subsequently arrested, the Polish source said.
Poland’s deputy foreign minister Marcin Przydacz said Tsimanouskaya was still in the care of the country’s diplomatic services.
She is set to be reunited in Poland with her husband, who fled Belarus amid this week’s developments and now reportedly plans to seek refuge in Europe as well.
Austria’s interior ministry told Reuters on Wednesday that police officers would take care of Tsimanouskaya’s personal safety upon her arrival, and the athlete would be accommodated and cared for in a separate transit area until her onward flight.
“Should an asylum application be filed, it will be handled within the framework of existing legislation,” the interior ministry said in an emailed statement.
Fears about ‘punishment’
Tsimanouskaya’s experience at the Tokyo Games became an international issue on Sunday, when she accused Belarusian team officials of hustling her to the airport and trying to put her on a plane to Belarus against her wishes because she had publicly criticised them.
The team officials made it clear she would face “punishment” back home, she said on Tuesday.
Tsimanouskaya refused to board the flight and sought the protection of Japanese police. She later made for the Polish embassy in Tokyo as reports abounded that she was seeking asylum in Europe.
Her case has focused attention on political discord in Belarus, where authorities have cracked down on dissent following a wave of protests following the disputed August 2020 election the opposition claims was rigged to keep longtime President Alexander Lukashenko in power.
Belarusian authorities characterised the anti-government protesters, thousands of whom were arrested, as criminals or violent revolutionaries backed by the West.
In a separate development that has raised further concerns among the Belarusian opposition, a Belarusian activist was found hanged in a park near his home in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, on Tuesday, a day after he was reported missing.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has launched a formal investigation into Tsimanouskaya’s case, said on Wednesday that it had received a report from the Belarusian team.
“The IOC is 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.
The Belarus National Olympic Committee (NOC) has previously said coaches withdrew Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors’ advice about her “emotional, psychological state”.
Critics of Lukashenko’s administration, including the United States, have condemned Tsimanouskaya’s treatment.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday accused Belarus of an “act of transnational repression” over the alleged attempt to force her home.
“Such actions violate the Olympic spirit, are an affront to basic rights, and cannot be tolerated,” he tweeted.
Poland, home to a growing number of Belarusian dissidents, denounced what it called a “criminal attempt” to kidnap the athlete.