Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya refused to board a plane leaving Tokyo on Sunday after saying she was forced to go to the airport by her national Olympic team following criticism of its coaching staff.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said in a tweet that it had spoken with Tsimanouskaya and that a Tokyo 2020 staff member is accompanying her at Haneda airport.
“She has told us that she feels safe,” the IOC said in one tweet. “The IOC and Tokyo 2020 will continue their conversations with Krystsina Tsymanouskaya and the authorities to determine the next steps in the upcoming days,” it said in another.
According to Reuters, the Belarusian Olympic Committee said in a statement that coaches had decided to withdraw Tsimanouskaya from the games based on doctors’ advice regarding her “emotional, psychological state.”
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has cracked down on dissenters following last year’s presidential election, which he claims to have won but which has been widely condemned as fraudulent.
In May, Belarusian authorities forced a Ryanair flight to divert to Minsk, where officials detained opposition activist and journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner, who had both been on board.
Lukashenko’s son, Viktor Lukashenko, is the president of the Belarus Olympic Committee.
The Belarus team’s decision to withdraw Tsimanouskaya came after she had complained on Instagram that she had been entered into a race on short notice as other teammates were found to be ineligible.
“Some of our girls did not fly here to compete in the 4x400m relay because they didn’t have enough doping tests,” Tsimanouskaya told Reuters.
“And the coach added me to the relay without my knowledge. I spoke about this publicly. The head coach came over to me and said there had been an order from above to remove me.”
The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, which works to support athletes targeted for their political views, said Tsimanouskaya plans to seek asylum in a European country and would start with Austria.
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša tweeted that she would be “welcome” in his country. Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek said Prague is “ready to help,” offering a visa for Tsimanouskaya to enter the country and apply for protected status.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the election, said on Twitter she was “grateful” to the IOC for its “quick reaction to the situation with the Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsymanouskaya. She has a right to international protection & to continue participation in the @Olympics.” Tsikhanouskaya added that it would be “crucial” to investigate Belarus’ actions.