The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said it is monitoring the situation surrounding a Belarusian Olympic athlete who accused her coaches of trying to remove her from the Tokyo games after she criticized them on social media.
Sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya sought the protection of Japanese police at Haneda airport on August 1, saying she was being sent back to Belarus against her wishes.
“The IOC…is looking into the situation and has asked the [the Belarus National Olympic Committee] for clarification,” the IOC said in a statement.
Earlier, Tsimanouskaya, 24, said in a video message posted on YouTube that she didn’t want to return to Belarus and had asked the IOC to “intervene.”
“I was put under pressure and they are trying to forcibly take me out of the country without my consent,” she said.
Tsimanouskaya was due to compete in the women's 200-meter event on August 2. But the athlete said that her coaching staff ordered her to pack her bags, before taking her to the airport.
Tsimanouskaya had alleged on social media that she was entered into the women’s 400-meter relay event on July 29 at short notice by Belarusian officials, after some team members were found to be ineligible to compete.
The Belarusian Olympic Committee said in a statement that Tsimanouskaya withdrew from the games on the advice of doctors concerned about her "emotional [and] psychological state.”
Several hours later, Tsimanouskaya said she was "safe" and under police protection in Japan. Her message was published on Telegram by the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF), an organization that supports opposition athletes.
Aleksandr Opeikin, a spokesman for the BSSF, told the Associated Press that Tsimanouskaya has been targeted by supporters of the authoritarian government of Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
“The campaign was quite serious and that was a clear signal that her life would be in danger in Belarus,” he said.
Tsimanouskaya would ask for asylum from the Austrian Embassy, Opeikin said.
The BSSF was founded last August by retired Belarusian swimmer Alyaksandra Herasimenia as protests erupted in Belarus after the disputed reelection of Lukashenka.
The organization provides financial and legal help to Belarusian athletes targeted by the authorities after calling for an end to the violent police crackdown on demonstrators.
In January, nearly 350 Belarusian athletes and other members of the sports community signed an open letter calling for the presidential election to be annulled and for all "political prisoners" and those detained during mass demonstrations that followed to be released.
Lukashenka has been banned from the Tokyo Olympics by the IOC, which investigated complaints from athletes that they faced reprisals and intimidation as a result of the protests.