Defected Belarusian athlete announces plan to run for Poland

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya says she hopes to compete again after her high-profile defection during the Tokyo Olympics.

Tsimanouskaya, 24, was taken in by Warsaw on a humanitarian visa at the beginning of August [File: Darek Golik/Reuters]

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, whose defection during the recent Tokyo Olympics gripped the Games, plans to apply for Polish sporting citizenship so that she can run for Poland.

Tsimanouskaya, 24, was taken in by Warsaw this month after she refused to obey her coaches’ orders to return to Belarus from Japan following a dispute over their handling of the Belarusian Olympic team.

She says that she feared for her safety in her homeland and that the decision to remove her from the Tokyo Games came from “high up”.

Her coaches said she had mental health issues, a claim she denies.

In an interview with the RBC television channel aired late on Wednesday, Tsimanouskaya said it can take three years to change sporting citizenship, but she hoped her application would be fast-tracked.

“We are now going to try to change my sporting citizenship so that I can compete for the Polish national team,” she said. “I have decided to stay in Poland and compete for the Polish national team.”

Last week, Tsimanouskaya told the Associated Press news agency that she had asked Polish officials to help her resume training following her defection.

“Life changed in one day, and now we are starting it from scratch in a new country,” she said, speaking alongside her husband, Arseni Zdanevich. “We are planning to stay in Poland and continue our careers here.

“We have turned to the Ministry of Sports, turned to the Polish athletics national team, with issues regarding a coach, a group and a place where I can train and many other issues regarding the continuation of my sports career here in Poland.”

Tsimanouskaya added that she and her husband feel secure in Poland, where they have both been granted humanitarian visas.

“We are definitely safe now because we are under protection,” she said.

Belarus has been gripped by a sweeping crackdown following last year’s anti-government protests, which came in response to a disputed election that handed longtime President Alexander Lukashenko a sixth term.

Lukashenko last week said Tsimanouskaya had been “manipulated” by outside forces, and would not have fled without such interference.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies