The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has launched a formal investigation into Belarusian officials' alleged attempt to force sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya home from the Tokyo Games, sparking her appeal to the international community for protection.
Tsimanouskaya has meanwhile urged punishment by the IOC of the specific national team managers involved but stressed that measures should not hinder Belarusian athletes' ability to compete in the Olympics.
The IOC must establish all the facts and hear all those involved before taking further action, spokesman Mark Adams said as he announced the move on August 3. He did not say when the investigation would be completed.
The IOC has already demanded an explanation from the Belarusian National Olympic Committee (NOC), which is led by Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka's eldest son, Viktar.
The 24-year-old Tsimanouskaya took refuge in the Polish Embassy in Tokyo on August 2 after refusing to allow team officials to force her onto a flight at Haneda Airport a day earlier.
The runner was granted a humanitarian visa by Poland following what she described as an attempted kidnapping to forcibly repatriate her after she criticized Belarusian sports officials. She said she fears for her safety if she returns to Belarus,
Adams said Tsimanouskaya had assured the IOC in several conversations that she felt safe and protected, and she is now in a safe place.
In a video interview with the Associated Press, Tsimanouskaya called for an investigation and "possibly taking sanctions against the head coach who approached me and who deprived me of the right to compete in the Olympic Games, or to investigate the situation, who gave the order, who actually took the decision that I can’t compete any more."
But she added that "the athletes aren’t guilty of anything and they should keep competing, and I don’t think there should be any sanctions against the athletes."
Tsimanouskaya is expected to travel to Poland this week.
"We have made sure that Krystina Tsimanouskaya is safe in the Polish Embassy in Tokyo and we will, if necessary, offer her the possibility of continuing her career," Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Facebook, describing her as "persecuted."
Tsimanouskaya's husband, Arsen Zdanevich, told several news outlets that he had fled Belarus and was hoping to join his wife "in the near future."
Zhdanevich had already entered Ukraine, an Interior Ministry source there told Reuters.
The Olympian's plight has been widely criticized as another attempt by Lukashenka's regime to stifle dissent amid a widespread crackdown against opposition activists and the independent media following his claim of victory in an August 2020 presidential election that has not been recognized by the opposition or the West.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Lukashenka’s government has committed "another act of transnational repression" by attempting to force Tsimanouskaya to leave "simply for exercising free speech."
Such actions "violate the Olympic spirit, are an affront to basic rights, and cannot be tolerated." Blinken said on Twitter.
Nabila Massrali, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said the incident is another example of how Lukashenka's regime "hits all categories of Belarusian society, including athletes, and does not respect any Olympic truce."
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told a news conference on August 3 that the Belarusian athlete is "in a safe situation."
Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the exiled leader of the Belarusian opposition, told CNN that her organization will ask for international protection for Tsimanouskaya.
“No doubt, [she] is our hero; she found the courage to speak out and faced repressions for her bravery. We should express solidarity and stand with her,” Tsikhanouskaya said, according to CNN reporter Jim Sciutto on Twitter.
Tsimanouskaya has expressed fears she could face arrest in her homeland over criticism she aired on social media of her coaches' decision to enter her in a race she had not prepared to run.
She criticized their decision and sought a ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to overturn it.
In a statement on August 3, the CAS outlined the legal steps Tsimanouskaya took in the hours after she sought protection.
The statement said the court denied Tsimanouskaya’s request because she "was not able to prove her case to get an interim relief" without giving details.