Tokyo (AP) – Fleeing the wrath of Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko, Kristina Timanovskaya’s Olympic nightmare ended in the Polish embassy in Tokyo. After escaping a kidnapping from Japan, which is under threat from the opposition in her country, the sprinter was granted a humanitarian visa in Poland on Monday.
The 24-year-old had previously spent the night at a hotel at Haneda Airport in a “safe environment,” an International Olympic Committee spokesman said. Timanovskaya had turned to the Japanese police over concerns about a forced return to Minsk by the authoritarian authorities in her country.
The previously internationally unknown athlete suddenly became the center of a political crime story that extends far beyond the sports stage. The Belarusian opposition athlete representation Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) and opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya brought a lot of attention to the case.
First the Czech Republic, then Poland and on Monday also Slovenia, Timanowskaja offered humanitarian asylum. The French Secretary of State for Europe, Clément Beaune, confirmed to the French broadcaster RFI: “Within Europe, there are considerations to grant the sprinter political asylum.” The German government called on the Belarusian authorities to respect fundamental democratic rights. Harassment, persecution and intimidation are strongly condemned, said a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
UN spokesperson comments
It is important “that anyone seeking protection or refugee status be given this opportunity,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday. “The Japanese authorities have done everything they can to protect them and I think that’s the most important thing. No one should be forced to go home under threat or coercion,” Dujarric emphasized.
Timanowskaja got out of a car in a baseball cap, black T-shirt and backpack in front of the Polish embassy on Monday and took her visa. BSSF activists announced that they had already booked a flight to Warsaw for the athlete for Wednesday.
The affair was clearly triggered by Timanovskaya’s public criticism of Belarusian sports officials. Her trainer Yuri Moisewitsch told ONT state television that the athlete should have traveled home with part of the delegation, “to calmly assess and clarify what’s going on afterwards.” But it turned out differently. “We understand that there was probably something planned,” the coach said.
Timanovskaya: Belarusian statement is a ‘lie’
The National Olympic Committee of Belarus had stated on Telegram that the athlete had been examined by a doctor and would not participate in further competitions in Tokyo because of her “emotional-psychological state”. Timanovskaya called this a “lie”. She told the radio station Euroradio: “You just told me to pack my things and fly home.” The BSSF spoke of an attempted “violent” exit. The CAS sports judges rejected the sprinter’s urgent request on Monday against her non-nomination for the 200-meter preliminaries – reason: she did not provide sufficient evidence in her case.
The IOC requested a written report from the Belarusian NOK. One must first await the exact background and details of the incident, said IOC spokesman Mark Adams. The umbrella organization will continue to talk with Timanoovskaya about what she is planning and will “support” her in her decision.
The Athletes Germany Association was shocked by the incident. If the allegations against Belarus are confirmed, “an exclusion of the Belarus regime from the international sports system and a suspension of the Belarus National Olympic Committee would also be called into question,” spokesman Maximilian Klein said.
Athletes showed solidarity with the opposition
Since the presidential elections in Belarus, which were not recognized by the EU last summer and in which Lukashenko declared himself the winner, many former loyal athletes in the country have shown solidarity with the political opposition. Hundreds of them had signed an open letter against the ‘last dictator of Europe’, as opponents Lukashenko call it. According to a report released Monday by the human rights organization Amnesty International, 95 athletes have been arrested for criticizing them.
Protests in the months following the election left several dead, hundreds injured and thousands arrested. Many people in Belarus are demanding an end to police brutality against peaceful protesters, the release of political prisoners and new elections without Lukashenko.
Lukashenko in disgrace in many places
The ruler has also been out of favor with the IOC for a while. Lukashenko and his son Viktor were banned from all Olympic activities, including the Tokyo Games. The NOK leadership around Lukashenko did not adequately protect athletes from political discrimination within the country’s sports organizations, IOC chief Thomas Bach justified the sanctions last December. All financial donations to the NOK of Belarus have also been suspended for the time being.
Lukashenko then threatened to sue. “Let Bach and his gang tell me where my fault lies,” he scolded.