Belarusian athlete Kristina Timanovskaya said Monday morning she was “safe” and under police protection in Japan after claiming her country had forced her to leave the Tokyo Olympics.
The 24-year-old said team officials had tried to remove her from Japan against her will after she criticised Belarus’s athletics federation for entering her into a relay race in Tokyo without giving her notice.
She claimed in videos posted on social media two officials had escorted her to the airport and demanded she return home.
It came after reports on Monday morning she had been on a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul, however, Russian News Agency Tass, has since reported there was nobody on the flight under her name.
Her public plea for international help has not fallen on deaf ears and her next move remains a mystery.
She has released statements publicly asking to be granted asylum in a European country. Some reports claim Austria is her preferred destination.
Poland and the Czech Republic are among the countries that have declared they would welcome Timanovskaya if she fears for her safety in her home country.
However, Timanovskaya insisted Monday morning she is safe and confirmed she remained in Tokyo in a post published in the early hours of Monday morning.
“I am safe and they are in the process of deciding where I am going to spend the night,” Timanovskaya said in a statement published by the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF), an organisation that supports opposition athletes.
“It turns out our great bosses as always decided everything for us,” she had said on her Instagram stories that are no longer available.
Olympic officials ordered to “eliminate” her
She has also given an extraordinary interview with a Russian news site Zerkalo from the airport in Tokyo.
“I’m outraged,” she said.
“After all, we came to the Olympic Games, and it is against all the rules to declare us for a distance event which we have never competed in our life. This is a complete disrespect for athletes.
“This is complete chaos.”
She said she was told that the decision was not made by the athletic federation or the Ministry of Sports, “but at a higher level”.
“They said I need to be eliminated from the Olympics and returned home because I interfere with the team’s performance,” she said, according to the New York Times.
Tsimanouskaya later said in a separate Instagram post that she wouldn’t have “reacted so harshly if I had been told in advance, explained the whole situation and asked if I was able to run 400 metres.”
“But they decided to do everything behind my back,” she added.
The BSSF said Belarus officials had tried to “deport” Timanovskaya.
The group said earlier that the sprinter, who had been due to compete in the women’s 200 metres heats in the Olympic Stadium on Monday, was at a Tokyo airport with Belarusian team officials and posted a video in which the athlete appealed to the International Olympic Committee.
“I am under pressure and they are trying to take me out of the country without my consent. I ask the International Olympic Committee to interfere,” Timanovskaya said in the video.
Reporters have described the situation as a “kidnapping”.
The BSSF also released a statement to AP response from officials “was a clear sign that her life would be in danger in Belarus”.
Disturbing video emerges of threats
It was followed by the leaking of a terrifying conversation reported to have been Timanovskaya speaking with the head coach of the Belarus national athletics team Yuri Moisevich.
The unverified video includes statements that could be interpreted as threats.
“Just be quiet,” voices on the video say to Timanovskaya, according to Russian media analyst Julia Davis.
“Just shut up.”
“Leave it alone.”
“You’re like a fly in a spiderweb, the more you jerk around—the worse you get entangled.”
Later opposition group issued the statement confirming she was safe. The Belarusian Olympic Committee had claimed that Timanovskaya left the Tokyo Games on medical advice because of her “emotional and psychological state”.
But, speaking through the BSSF, Timanovskaya said that claim was “not true” and said she had not been examined by doctors.
The IOC said in a statement to AFP: “The IOC has seen the reports in the media, is looking into the situation and has asked the NOC (Belarus Olympic officials) for clarification.”
BSSF was founded last August by retired Belarusian swimmer Aliaksandra Herasimenia, as protests erupted after the disputed re-election of strongman President Alexander Lukashenko.
Herasimenia — who now lives in exile in Lithuania — sold her 2012 world championship gold medal to raise funds for the foundation.
It provides financial and legal assistance to athletes targeted by the authorities after calling for an end to the violent police crackdown on demonstrators.
The turmoil has led to Belarus being stripped of hosting this year’s ice hockey world championship and a ban on Lukashenko attending Olympic events.
– with AFP