A Belarusian Olympic sprinter told reporters Thursday she was advised by family members not to return home because she was being criticized by the Belarus media, who reported that she was mentally ill.
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, arrived in Warsaw, Poland, late Wednesday. Polish authorities granted her a humanitarian visa to seek political asylum earlier this week after she alleged her team’s officials were trying to force her to fly home to Belarus against her wishes.
At a news conference, Tsimanouskaya told reporters that after she posted a message on social media earlier this week criticizing how she was being handled by her coaches, members of the Belarus coaching staff, along with other men, came to her room in the Olympic village and told her she had “some injury” and had to go home.
Tsimanouskaya said she was told if she did not, there be “some problems for her in her country.”
She said as she gathered her things, her grandmother called and warned her not to return home, saying television reports said the sprinter had mental problems, and that she might be put in a hospital or jailed.
At the Tokyo airport, Tsimanouskaya sought help from Japanese police, translating a plea on her phone and showing it to them.
As the drama unfolded, European countries offered to help her, and she ended up at the Polish Embassy, where she received a humanitarian visa. Many Belarusian activists have fled to Poland to avoid a brutal crackdown by President Alexander Lukashenko’s government.
Tsimanouskaya told reporters she had not decided about seeking political asylum. She said her husband would be joining her in Poland later Thursday, and they would make a decision. She said she wanted to continue her sports career and support freedom in her country.
Belarus has been wracked by political upheaval and a crackdown on dissent after disputed elections that returned Lukashenko to power last year.
Tsimanouskaya was one of more than 2,000 Belarusian sports figures who signed an open letter calling for new elections and for political prisoners to be freed.