MINSK -- Two Belarusian cross-country skiers say they have been barred from competition after sports officials in the tightly controlled country accused them of supporting the country's political opposition.
Svyatlana Andryyuk and Darya Dalidovich told Reuters on January 11 that the Belarus Ski Union annulled their individual athlete registrations last month and therefore they are no longer able to take part in in official competitions organized by the International Ski Federation (FIS), including qualifications for major international events such as the Olympic Games in Beijing that start in less than a month.
According to Andryyuk and Dalidovich, the head of the Belarus Cross-Country Skiing Federation, Alyaksandr Darakhovich, ordered officials in November to bar them from competing.
Neither Darakhovich, who is also a deputy mayor of Minsk, nor the Belarus Ski Union were available for comment.
FIS confirmed to Reuters that the two athletes' individual registration numbers had been deactivated.
The two young skiers are the latest athletes to be targeted since a crackdown on critics of authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka after a 2020 presidential election his opponents say was fraudulent.
Andryyuk, 22, said she had never publicly expressed her political point of view, adding that she was "neutral" to political events in the country.
Dalidovich, 17, said her father's political views might have been behind the authorities' move.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues his brutal crackdown on NGOs, activists, and independent media following the August 2020 presidential election, widely seen as fraudulent.
Her father, Syarhey Dalidovich, a seven-time Olympian, took part in anti-Lukashenka demonstrations in 2020.
The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) said on social media on January 11 that it officially urged the FIS to restore the two athletes' eligibility to take part in international skiing events.
The BSSF was founded in August 2020 by retired Belarusian swimmer Alyaksandra Herasimenya as protests erupted in Belarus after the disputed reelection of Lukashenka.
It provides financial and legal help to Belarusian athletes targeted by the authorities over the anti-Lukashenka protests.
In one of the most high-profile cases targeting athletes, Belarusian team officials tried to force sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya to fly home from the Tokyo Olympics after she criticized them on social media.
She took refuge in the Polish Embassy in Tokyo after refusing the order. Two days later she boarded a plane to Europe, reaching Warsaw, where she is living in exile.
Lukashenka's crackdown on dissent has seen thousands detained, while most opposition politicians have left the country fearing for their safety.