Simon Denyer

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author. Former bureau chief with The Washington Post and Reuters.

Aug 6, 2021
Published on: Washington Post
1 min read

TOKYO — Two Belarusian Olympic officials accused of attempting to force sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya to return home early from the Tokyo Games have been stripped of their accreditation and will be leaving Japan, organizers said on Friday.

The International Olympic Committee launched disciplinary commission hearings to look into the allegations against the Belarusian pair, Artur Shumak, deputy director of the national track-and-field training center, and Yuri Moisevich, the national team’s head coach.

While that commission continues to consider the case and “to clarify the circumstances around the incident,” the IOC said the pair would be sent home.

“In the interest of the wellbeing of the athletes of the National Olympic Committee of Belarus who are still in Tokyo and as a provisional measure, the IOC cancelled and removed last night the accreditations of the two coaches, Mr A. Shumak and Mr Y. Moisevich,” the International Olympic Committee said in a statement.

“The two coaches were requested to leave the Olympic Village immediately and have done so. They will be offered an opportunity to be heard.”

Yoshida Tomoyuki, press secretary for Japan’s Foreign Ministry, denounced Belarus’s treatment of Tsimanouskaya. “The fact that Ms. Tsimanouskaya, an athlete participating in the Olympic Games, which is a festival of peace, had to face forcible return to her country against her will under pressure from the authorities of Belarus due to expression of her personal views on the competition, is wrong and unacceptable,” the statement said.

Tsimanouskaya arrived in Poland on Wednesday to seek asylum after refusing to return to her homeland amid fears of reprisals from the regime of President Alexander Lukashenko as it wages sweeping crackdowns on dissent.

Tsimanouskaya, who runs the 100- and 200-meter races, had criticized Belarusian Olympic officials in an Instagram video from the Tokyo Games after they tried to force her to run in a relay that she had not trained for. She said those comments led to an attempt to forcibly send her home Sunday.

The 24-year-old asked Japanese police for protection at Haneda Airport in Tokyo and pleaded for help from the International Olympic Committee. Poland and the Czech Republic both offered her asylum.

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

“I don’t know anything about politics. I never was in politics,” she said, telling the BBC she wanted to return to Belarus but felt it was too dangerous at the moment.

Belarusian security forces have arrested dozens of activists and journalists in recent weeks, part of continuing crackdowns since mass protests over the August 2020 presidential election, which was rejected by the opposition as rigged in favor of Lukashenko.

After Tsimanouskaya refused to fly back to Belarus on Sunday out of fear for her safety, Arseniy Zdanevich, her husband, fled to Ukraine. He has now been given a visa to join her in Poland, but her other relatives remain in her home country.

The Belarus Olympic Committee is run by Lukashenko’s eldest son, Viktor Lukashenko. The IOC has refused to recognize Viktor Lukashenko’s election to the post.

The Belarus Olympic Committee had said coaches withdrew Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors’ advice about her emotional and psychological state, a claim she denied.