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11 Jan, 2022 16:12

Belarusian skiers explain why they believe they've been banned

Athletes say they have been barred from competition for purely political reasons
Belarusian skiers explain why they believe they've been banned

Two Belarusian athletes prohibited from competing in cross-country skiing events by the national ski union say they have been sidelined due to their perceived support for opposition politics, and not due to sporting merit.

According to news agency Reuters, skiers Svetlana Andryiuk and Darya Dolidovich say they have become the latest athletes to be targeted for their apparent opposition of President Alexander Lukashenko, the long-term leader in Minsk, and other officials. Most prominently, at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, runner Kristina Timanovskaya made international headlines after she was removed from the competition against her will and forced to board a plane home. She refused to board and instead defected to Poland.

Now, Andryiuk and Dolidovich say that the head of the Belarusian Cross Country Ski Federation, Alexander Darakhovich, has forced sports officials to ban them from competing internationally and taking part in national training camps. Darakhovich is also a member of the Minsk City Executive Committee.

Andryiuk, who says she has never publicly stated her political views, claims that the political decision caused her to miss a qualifying event which could have seen her represent the country in this year’s Beijing Olympics.

“They (sports officials) accused me word for word of being an opposition supporter,” Andryiuk said, noting that she plans to defect.

Dolidovich, a rising star in the cross-country skiing world, is the daughter of Olympian Sergey Dolidovich. Her father took part in street protests against the authorities and was forced to quit his job at the national training center after political pressure.

“I didn’t do anything myself that would justify a disqualification,” Dolidovich told Reuters. She also noted that she shares her father’s views on Lukashenko.