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Poland grants a visa to sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya

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By Euronews with AP, AFP
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Krystsina Tsimanouskaya of Belarus competes in a heat of the women's 60 meters race at the European Athletics Indoor Championships at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, Scotland,
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya of Belarus competes in a heat of the women's 60 meters race at the European Athletics Indoor Championships at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, Scotland,   -   Copyright  Alastair Grant/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved
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Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya has been granted a visa to travel to Poland, the country's deputy foreign minister has said.

The 24-year-old sprinter, in Tokyo for the Olympics, says she fears for her safety if she returns to Belarus.

She claims after criticising how the team was being run in Japan, Belarusian officials had tried to force her home to Belarus.

Tsimanouskaya raised the alarm and Poland has come to her aid.

Marcin Przydacz, Poland's deputy foreign minister, said on Twitter: "Kryscina Tsimanouskaya a Belarusian athlete is already in direct contact with Polish diplomats in Tokyo.

"She has received a humanitarian visa. Poland will do whatever is necessary to help her to continue her sporting career."

Earlier, Arseni Zdanevich, Tsimanouskaya's husband, said she would likely apply for asylum in Poland.

The drama comes after nearly a year of political turmoil in Belarus following the disputed re-election of long-time president Alexander Lukashenko last August. A crackdown on dissent followed months of anti-government protests.

Over the weekend Tsimanouskaya had appealed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for help after claiming that officials from her country attempted to have her deported from Japan.

In a video message, Tsimanouskaya said that her team officials had put her under pressure to return to Belarus. The IOC had said that Tsimanouskaya was "safe" after a standoff at Tokyo airport.

Several European countries then offered asylum to the sprinter, including the Czech Republic and Slovenia.

The dispute began when Tsimanouskaya criticised Belarusian authorities on Instagram, for entering her for the 4x400 relay despite her never previously racing the event.

On Sunday, the athlete said she had been told by her coach that Belarus had suspended her participation in the Tokyo Olympics, and she was accompanied to Tokyo's international airport by officials from the country's national Olympic committee.

But Tsimanouskaya summoned Japanese police at Haneda Airport and did not board the flight.

"The IOC and Tokyo 2020 have spoken to Krystsina Tsimanouskaya directly," the IOC said 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."

The IOC says it asked the Belarus national Olympic officials for clarification on the dispute.

Belarus's Olympic Committee, which is headed by the son of President Alexander Lukashenko, claimed that Tsimanouskaya's involvement in the Olympics had been suspended due to the "decision of doctors, because of her emotional and psychological state".

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the activist group, the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation, said the organisation has bought Tsimanouskaya a ticket to Warsaw for August 4.

The sprinter had been due to compete in the women's 200 metres on Monday.