Where is Belarus? Who is Krystsina Tsimanouskaya? Why did the country try to 'force' the sprinter to return home?
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On Sunday evening (August 1), the Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was said to be safe among Tokyo police officers at the Tokyo Olympic Games 2020 after Belarus Olympic Committee officials reportedly tried to fly the athlete home against her will on Saturday.
The attempt to return Ms Tsimanouskaya to Belarus came after she openly criticised the Belarusian team officials and their management, with the athlete confirming on Sunday that she was refusing to leave Tokyo and return to Belarus despite the demands of her team.
Reports have stated that the athlete will be seeking political asylum, with both Poland and the Czech Republic among countries offering asylum to Ms Tsimanouskaya.
The International Olympic Committee is now investigating the Belarusian Olympic Committee as scrutiny of the country’s Olympic controversies intensify.
The NOC, Belarus’ Olympic Committee, was accused earlier this year of discriminating against athletes who criticised the regime of Aleksander Lukashenko following his re-election as president in August last year.
The president, and his son Viktor who is the president of the Belarusian Olympic committee, were barred by the IOC from attending the Tokyo Games earlier this year.
Here’s what you need to know.
Where is Belarus?
Belarus is a country located in Eastern Europe, with the country bordering Russia on its east and north east side, Ukraine on the south, Poland to the west and Latvia and Lithuania located to the north west of the country.
Belarus and its largest, capital city of Minsk saw widespread devastation during the Second World War due to its landlocked location and occupation by Nazi Germany in 1941.
The country was once considered Russian territory and gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, but President Aleksander Lukashenko has been leader of the nation since 1994 – with protests and civil unrest swelling in recent years as the president has resorted to violent tactics of suppressing and silencing his political opponents.
Who is Belarus athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya?
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is a 24-year-old sprinter with the Belarus Olympic team.
A winner of a silver medal in the 100 metre sprint at the 2017 European U23 Championships, Tsimanouskaya also scooped a gold 200m medal at the Italian 2019 Summer Universiade and another silver medal in the 2019 European Games held in Minsk, in her native country of Belarus.
At the Tokyo Olympics 2020 the athlete had come fourth in the women’s 100m sprint heats on Friday July 30 and was set to participate in the women’s 200m heats today (August 2) and 4x400m relay later this week.
But on Sunday August 1, the International Olympic Committee tweeted: “The IOC has seen the reports in the media about the Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsymanouskaya.
"We are looking into the situation and have asked the NOC for clarification.”
The overseers of the Olympic Games later wrote on the social media site to say that they had been in contact with Tsimanouskaya and she “felt safe” after seeking refuge with Japanese police officers at Haneda Airport, Tokyo.
"The IOC and Tokyo 2020 have spoken to Krystsina Tsymanouskaya directly tonight,” the IOC posted on Twitter.
"She is with the authorities at Haneda airport and is currently accompanied by a staff member of Tokyo 2020.
"She has told us that she feels safe.”
In a second tweet they added: “The IOC and Tokyo 2020 will continue their conversations with Krystsina Tsimanouskaya and the authorities to determine the next steps in the upcoming days.”
Why did the country try to 'force' the sprinter to return home?
Tsimanouskaya was to be flown home against her will after the athlete accused coaches from the Belarusian Olympic team of “negligence” in a post on Instagram and was reportedly removed from the team as a result.
The sprinter later told Reuters: "Some of our girls did not fly here to compete in the 4x400m relay because they didn't have enough doping tests.
"And the coach added me to the relay without my knowledge. I spoke about this publicly. The head coach came over to me and said there had been an order from above to remove me."
Athletes, activists and sports officials worldwide are now calling for the suspension of the Belarusian Olympic Committee.
Rob Koehler, director of the athlete activist group Global Athlete, tweeted on Sunday evening: "The Belarus Olympic Committee must be immediately suspended by the IOC. These athletes should be afforded the opportunity to compete under the Olympic flag. @Olympics #Tokyo2020
"The IOC has received countless warnings of athlete abuse from @BSSFofficial."
Additional reporting by PA Sport Staff.