A Belarusian Olympic participant is said to be kidnapped by the Tokyo authorities. The case becomes an international political thriller. Kristina Timanowskaja is now being granted asylum in Poland. Will there be further IOC sanctions against Belarus?
Belarusian sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya (right, photo from 2018) received a humanitarian visa from Poland on Monday.
imago / Andreas Gora
On the run from the anger of the Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko, Kristina Timanovskaya’s Olympic nightmare ended in the Polish embassy in Tokyo. Having escaped a kidnapping from Japan, which is threatened by the opposition in her country, the sprinter received a humanitarian visa in Poland on Monday. The 24-year-old had previously spent the night in a hotel at Haneda Airport in a “safe environment,” a spokesman for the International Olympic Committee said. Timanovskaya had turned to the Japanese police in her concern about a forced return to Minsk by the authoritarian authorities in her country. The previously internationally rather unknown athlete suddenly became the focus of a political crime story that extends far beyond the sports stage. The opposition Belarusian athletes representative Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) and opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaya drew a lot of attention to the case.
First the Czech Republic, then Poland and on Monday also Slovenia offered Timanowskaja humanitarian asylum. France’s Secretary of State for Europe, Clément Beaune, confirmed to the French broadcaster RFI: “Within Europe, there are considerations to grant the sprinter political asylum.” The German government called on the Belarusian authorities to respect basic democratic rights. Harassment, persecution and intimidation are strongly condemned, said a spokeswoman for the Foreign Office. On Monday, Timanowskaja got out of a car with a baseball cap, black T-shirt and backpack in front of the Polish embassy and took her visa. BSSF activists announced that they had already booked a flight to Warsaw for the athlete for Wednesday.
Timanovskaya had previously submitted an urgent application to the International Court of Justice for Sports (CAS) in Lausanne (Switzerland) to participate in the preliminaries over 200 meters. The 24-year-old wanted to overturn the decision of the Belarusian Olympic Committee, which Timanovskaya had denied the start on Monday, with an interim order from the CAS. The president of the ad hoc committee of the sports court rejected this, however, because the athlete was not able to prove her case. This was announced by the Cas.
IOC requests a written report from the Belarusian NOK
The affair was obviously triggered by Timanovskaya’s public criticism of Belarusian sports officials. Her trainer Yuri Moisewitsch told the ONT state television that the athlete should have traveled home with part of the delegation “in order to then calmly assess and clarify what is going on”. But it turned out differently. “We understand that something was probably planned,” said the coach. The National Olympic Committee of Belarus had stated on Telegram that the athlete had been examined by a doctor and would not take part in any further competitions in Tokyo because of her “emotional and psychological state”. Timanovskaya called this a “lie”. She told the radio station Euroradio: “You just told me to pack my things and fly home.” The BSSF spoke of an attempted “violent” exit.
The IOC requested a written report from the Belarusian NOK. One must first wait for the exact background and details of the incident, said IOC spokesman Mark Adams. The umbrella organization will continue to talk to Timanovskaya about what she is planning and will “support” her in her decision.
Vereinigung Athleten Deutschland is appalled by the incident
The Athletes Germany Association was appalled by the incident. If the allegations against Belarus are confirmed, “an exclusion of the Belarusian regime from the international sports system and a suspension of the Belarusian National Olympic Committee would also come into question,” said spokesman Maximilian Klein.
Since the presidential election in Belarus, which was not recognized by the EU last summer and in which Lukashenko declared himself the winner, many formerly loyal athletes in the country have shown solidarity with the political opposition. Hundreds of them had signed an open letter against the “last dictator of Europe”, as opponents Lukashenko call it. According to a report released on Monday by the human rights organization Amnesty International, 95 athletes have been detained for criticizing them. Protests in the months following the election left several dead, hundreds injured and thousands arrested. Many people in Belarus are demanding an end to police violence against peaceful demonstrators, the release of political prisoners and new elections without Lukashenko.
At the IOC, too, the ruler has fallen out of favor for some time. Lukashenko and his son Viktor were banned from all Olympic activities, including the Tokyo Games. The leadership of the NOK around Lukashenko did not adequately protect athletes from political discrimination within the country’s sports organizations, IOC boss Thomas Bach justified the sanctions last December. All financial donations for the NOK of Belarus have also been suspended for the time being. Lukashenko then threatened a lawsuit. “Let Bach and his gang tell where my guilt lies,” he railed.