Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya refused to board a plane from Tokyo on Sunday after saying she was forced to the airport by her national Olympic team following criticism from her coaching staff .
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said in a Tweeter that he had spoken with Tsimanouskaya and that a Tokyo 2020 staff member is accompanying him to Haneda Airport.
“She told us she felt safe,” the IOC said in a tweet. “The IOC and Tokyo 2020 will continue their conversations with Krystsina Tsymanouskaya and the authorities to determine the next steps in the coming days,” he said in another.
According to Reuters, the Belarusian Olympic Committee said in a statement that the coaches decided to remove Tsimanouskaya from the games based on doctors’ advice regarding his “emotional and psychological state”.
Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko cracked down on dissidents 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 arrested opposition activist and journalist Roman Protasevich and his partner, both of whom were on board.
Lukashenko’s son Viktor Lukashenko is the president of the Belarusian Olympic Committee.
The Belarusian team’s decision to remove Tsimanouskaya came after she complained on Instagram that she was entered in a race on short notice as other teammates were found to be ineligible.
“Some of our girls didn’t 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 have spoken about it publicly. The head coach came up to me and told me there had been an order from above to pull me out.
The Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation, which works to support athletes targeted for their political views, said Tsimanouskaya is planning to seek asylum in a European country and will start with Austria.
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša tweeted that she would be “welcome” in her country. Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek noted Prague is “ready to help,” offering Tsimanouskaya a visa to enter the country and apply for protected status.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who fled to Lithuania after the elections, said on Twitter she was “grateful” to the IOC for its “swift reaction to the situation with Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsymanouskaya. She has the right to international protection and to continue participating in @Olympics. Tsikhanouskaya added that it would be “crucial” to investigate Belarus’ actions.