‘Affront to basic rights’: US officials wade into row surrounding Belarusian Olympic sprinter Timanovskaya as IOC demands answers
US officials have waded into the row surrounding Belarusian sprinter Kristina Timanovskaya, accusing Minsk of disregarding “basic rights”, while the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has launched a formal investigation.
Olympic athlete Timanovskaya sought protection from Japanese police at Haneda airport in Tokyo on Sunday after saying she had been ordered to return to Belarus against her wishes.
The 24-year-old has since taken refuge at the Polish embassy in Tokyo after Warsaw offered her a humanitarian visa.
The scandal has rocked the Games, with IOC spokesman Mark Adams confirming on Tuesday that the organization had set up a formal investigation and was expecting answers from the Belarusian National Olympic Committee by the end of Tuesday.
“We want it (a report) today. We have decided to launch a formal investigation. We need to establish the full facts. We need to hear everyone involved,” Adams said.
The row erupted when Timanovskaya accused Belarusian Olympic officials of incompetence, complaining about her unexpected inclusion in the 4x400m relay after some of her teammates had been found to be ineligible.
The runner had been due to take part in the 200m in Tokyo on Monday but was withdrawn and said she was later taken to the airport against her will. Timanovskaya says she fears being jailed for her dissent, should she return to Belarus.
Belarusian team officials have said the athlete had been asked to return home because of her “emotional and psychological condition.”
Poland was among the countries to offer Timanovskaya assistance, and she was seen entering the Polish embassy in Tokyo on Monday. She is expected to leave Japan on Wednesday.
“[The investigation] obviously can take time. We need to get to be bottom of it. How long that will take I do not know,” added IOC official Adams.
“We have also now contacted the NOC of Poland. In terms of what the IOC can for her future we have talked to them with regard to her sport, after her arrival in Warsaw if that is indeed where she chooses to end up.”
Timanovskaya’s husband, Arseniy Zdanevich, has already left Belarus for Kiev. He told Sky News: “I didn't think it would get this serious. I made the decision to leave without thinking twice.”
Elsewhere, US government officials have begun weighing into the row, criticizing longtime Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Lukashenko has been accused of cracking down on opposition figures – including a number of athletes – following his reelection last year.
“The Lukashenka regime sought to commit another act of transnational repression: attempting to force Olympian Krystsyna Tsimanouskaya to leave simply for exercising free speech,” tweeted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“Such actions violate the Olympic spirit, are an affront to basic rights, and cannot be tolerated.”
The Lukashenka regime sought to commit another act of transnational repression: attempting to force Olympian Krystsyna Tsimanouskaya to leave simply for exercising free speech. Such actions violate the Olympic spirit, are an affront to basic rights, and cannot be tolerated.— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) August 3, 2021
US Ambassador to Belarus Julie Fisher tweeted her condemnation, claiming “the Lukashenko regime” was trying to “discredit and humiliate this athlete for expressing her views.”
Thanks to the quick action of Japanese and Polish authorities, Tsimanouskaya is able to evade the attempts of the Lukashenka regime to discredit and humiliate this #Tokyo2020 athlete for expressing her views. #StandWithBelarushttps://t.co/fpclTeIvDy— Julie Fisher (@USAmbBelarus) August 2, 2021
Timanovskaya’s husband, however, claimed that the couple were not politically active.
“We never had any connections, never supported the opposition,” he said.
“We're just normal sports people, we're just devoted to sports and we're not interested in the opposition movement.”
The head of the Belarusian athletics team in Tokyo, Yuri Moisevich, claimed Timanovskaya had been “acting strangely” before the scandal.
“Unfortunately, it turned out the way it turned out. In general, it’s strange," Moisevich was quoted as saying on Belarusian TV.
"We didn't even expect it. But, having already compared all these aspects, we understand that, maybe, Timanovskaya planned something.”
Timanovskaya had filed an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland over the decision by the Belarusian National Olympic Committee to strip her of her Tokyo 2020 accreditation, but saw her request rejected.
"The urgent request to stay the execution of the challenged decision was dismissed by the President of the CAS Ad hoc Division, as the athlete was not able to prove her case to get an interim relief," read a CAS media release.Also on rt.com ‘We got signals something was going on’: Belarus coach says Timanovskaya ‘behaving strangely’ at Olympics before flight scandal