Warsaw, Poland – The Czech Republic and Poland have both offered visa and political protection to Kristina Timanovskaya, a Belarusian athlete who was reportedly forcibly taken out of the Olympic Games in Tokyo in what critics have described as a “kidnapping” attempt.
“Kidnapping” attempt of Belarusian athlete in Tokyo
According to the 24-year-old sprinter, officials from the Belarusian Olympic team removed her by force from the Games on Sunday and drove her to the airport to put her on a plane back to Minsk, via Istanbul, after she criticized her country’s athletics federation.
“It turns out our great bosses as always decided everything for us,” she had written on her Instagram stories on Friday after her coaches entered her into a relay race in Tokyo without warning her.
As reports about a possible abduction intensified, Ms. Timanovskaya posted a video from Tokyo’s Haneda airport in which she appealed directly to the International Olympic Committee for help. “I am under pressure and they are trying to take me out of the country without my consent,” she said. “I am afraid I might be jailed in Belarus. I am not afraid of being fired or kicked out of the national team. I’m concerned about my safety.”
The Belarusian Olympic Committee, for its part, had claimed that the athlete had left the Tokyo Games early because of her “emotional and psychological state”.
But in a statement published late last night by the Belarus Sport Solidarity Foundation, an organisation that supports athletes repressed by Minsk authorities, Ms. Timanovskaya said she was now “safe” and had been placed under police protection in “a special shelter”.
While it is still unclear what she will do next, international support for the sprinter poured in from EU capitals throughout Sunday.
Czech Republic and Poland offer asylum to Kristina Timanovskaya
Describing the situation as a “scandal”, Czech Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek said on Twitter that the Czech government was “ready to help”, offering her a visa so she can apply for asylum in the Czech Republic.
In a second tweet on Monday morning, he confirmed that Ms. Timanovskaya had received Prague’s asylum offer. “If she chooses it, we will help her as much as possible,” he said.
Poland’s deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Marcin Przydacz also said Warsaw had offered her a humanitarian visa so she can “pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses”.
The Polish government has been one of the most vocal critics of the Lukashenko regime in Belarus, and granted asylum to hundreds of Belarusian refugees since the start of the protests last year.
The international outcry at the brutal repression of the demonstrations has led, in the sports arena, to Belarus being stripped of hosting this year’s Ice Hockey World Championship. Lukashenko has also been banned from attending Olympic events.