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IOC expels two Belarus coaches for trying to force sprinter to return home

She was bundled to the airport, where she received a message from her grandmother telling her it was too dangerous for her to come home.

Staff Writers
3 minute read
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, of Belarus, runs in the women's 100m run at the 2020 Summer Olympics, July 30. Photo: AP
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, of Belarus, runs in the women's 100m run at the 2020 Summer Olympics, July 30. Photo: AP

Two Belarusian coaches have lost their Tokyo Olympics accreditation after allegedly attempting to force one of their own athletes to leave the games and fly home.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed that Artur Shimak and Yury Maisevich have left the Olympic Village, the BBC is reporting.

Krystina Timanovskaya’s plight garnered global attention after she refused her team’s orders to fly home, seeking Japanese police protection after she was taken to Haneda airport.

Poland granted her a humanitarian visa and she is reportedly there now.

Belarus says she was removed from the national team because of her emotional state. But the 24-year-old says this is not true, saying she was removed because she spoke on Instagram about the “negligence of her coaches”.

In a statement, the IOC said it had removed the accreditations of the two coaches “as a provisional measure in the interest of the wellbeing of the athletes of the National Olympic Committee of Belarus who are still in Tokyo”.

The body said a disciplinary commission has been established to investigate the incident and that both coaches would be “offered an opportunity to be heard”.

The case has again put the international spotlight on Belarus, which has been ruled by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko since 1994. Last year, nationwide protests over his disputed re-election were violently repressed by security forces.

Timanovskaya’s removal came after the sprinter complained on social media about being entered into the 4x400m relay race at short notice after some teammates were found to be ineligible to compete.

Her post led to criticism in state media, with one television channel saying she lacked team spirit.

Timanovskaya said two coaches came into her room and told her to pack her bags immediately, ready to return home. She was told to say that she had been injured.

In an interview with the BBC, she said she was being taken to the airport when her grandmother warned her it was not safe to return to Belarus after watching local news reports on the situation.

At the airport, Timanovskaya showed officers a translated plea for help on her phone in an effort to avoid being put on a plane home.

She was then given police protection before being moved to the Polish embassy in Tokyo. She travelled to Poland via Austria, on Wednesday.

The mass protests that gripped Belarus last year saw security forces often use violence to break up the demonstrations and thousands of people arrested.

Some of the protesters were national-level athletes, who were then stripped of funding, cut from national teams and detained.

However, Timanovskaya insists that she is “not a political girl” and just wants to focus on her sporting career.

“I don’t know anything about politics. I never was in politics,” she said.

The sprinter told the BBC she wanted to return to Belarus, but that it was too dangerous at the moment.

Her husband has also fled Belarus and has been given a visa for Poland, but the rest of her family remains in the country.

In May, a journalist and his girlfriend were arrested after a Belarus military jet forced their commercial airliner – flying from Athens to Vilnius, in neighbouring Lithuania – to land in Minsk, the Belarusian capital.

Outraged Western countries accused Belarus of hijacking the Ryanair plane.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko defended the decision to divert the flight, saying: “We need to take appropriate measures to protect our country.”