Tokyo Olympics: Belarusian sprinter heads for Vienna after accusing team officials of threatening her with ‘punishment’

A Belarusian sprinter has boarded a flight to the Austrian city of Vienna, just days after a public dispute with her own team officials.

Krystina Tsimanouskaya, 24, was seen at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport on Wednesday morning surrounded by an entourage.

It is not clear whether Austria is her final destination, as several countries had offered to help her, including Poland, which offered her a humanitarian visa.

Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya stands surrounded by police officers at Haneda international airport in Tokyo, Japan
Tsimanouskaya had sought protection from Japanese authorities at the airport

Tsimanouskaya had been scheduled to board a flight for the Polish capital Warsaw, but a member of the Belarusian community in touch with her said diplomats had changed her flight due to security concerns.

In May, dissident journalist Roman Protasevich had been flying from Greece to Lithuania but was arrested after his Ryanair flight was diverted to Belarus.

Tsimanouskaya’s dispute began last week when she criticised her coaches on social media, describing them as negligent.

She claimed that team officials had responded on Sunday by telling her to pack her things so they could take her to the airport with the aim of forcing her to return to Belarus.

In a statement on its Facebook page, the Belarus Olympic Committee said Tsimanouskaya was removed from the Games because of her “emotional and psychological state”.

Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya says she has been taken to Tokyo Airport against her will
The sprinter says she was taken to the airport in Tokyo against her will

But Tsimanouskaya told Reuters news agency early in the dispute: “I will not return to Belarus” and this week she said team officials had “made it clear” she would be punished if she did.

“They made it clear that upon return home I would definitely face some form of punishment,” she said. “There were also thinly disguised hints that more would await me.”

Belarus National Olympic Committee is headed by the country’s authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko and his son Viktor.

Tsimanouskaya sought protection from police at the airport in Tokyo and spent a night in an airport hotel before her flight to Europe on Wednesday.

She said: “I would very much like to continue my sporting career because I’m just 24 and I had plans for two more Olympics at least. For now, the only thing that concerns me is my safety.”

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