By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
Sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said Sunday she avoided getting on a plane home from Tokyo after being taken to the airport against her will.
She confirmed that she had sought protection from Japanese police at Tokyo’s Haneda airport.
“I will not return to Belarus, ” she said in published remarks.
A source at the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation, which supports athletes jailed or sidelined for their political views, said Tsimanouskaya would seek asylum in Germany or Austria on Monday.
Belarus, a former Soviet state, is run with a tight grip by President Alexander Lukashenko. In power since 1994, he faced a wave of protests last year, which some athletes joined.
Tsimanouskaya ran in the women’s 100 meters heats on Friday and was scheduled to run in the 200 meters heats on Monday, along with the 4×400 meters relay on Thursday
The athlete told media she was removed from the team due “to the fact that I spoke on my [social networking service] Instagram about the negligence of our coaches.”
Tsimanouskaya had complained on Instagram that she was entered in the 4×400 meters relay after some team members were found to be ineligible to compete at the Olympics.
“Some of our girls did not fly here to compete in the 4×400 meters relay because they didn’t have enough doping tests,” Tsimanouskaya said.
“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.”
Authorities were quick to deny wrongdoing. The Belarusian Olympic Committee said coaches had decided to withdraw Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors’ advice about her “emotional, psychological state.”
Tsimanouskaya is the latest prominent athlete targeted by authorities in Belarus. Though elite athletes rely mainly on government funding, some prominent Belarusian athletes joined the anti-government protests. Several were jailed, including Olympic basketball player Yelena Leuchanka and decathlete Andrei Krauchanka.
Others lost their state employment or were kicked off national teams for supporting the opposition.
During the Cold War, scores of sportspeople and cultural figures defected from the Soviet Union and its satellite states during overseas competitions or tours.
But observers say that the freedom of travel that came with the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union saw the need for such dramatic acts dwindle.
However, Tsimanouskaya is among an increasing number of young people fleeing Belarus amid an ongoing government crackdown on dissent and protests.
Lukashenko had been described as Europe’s “last dictator” by the United States and other countries.
If you are interested in articles produced by Worthy News, please check out our FREE sydication service available to churches or online Christian ministries. To find out more, visit Worthy Plugins.