IOC expels Belarus coaches over Tsimanouskaya scandal

Olympics governing body cancels accreditation of two Belarusian coaches after failed bid to force sprinter home.

Tsimanouskaya flew to Poland, where she and her husband have been granted humanitarian visas [Darek Golik/Reuters]
Tsimanouskaya flew to Poland, where she and her husband have been granted humanitarian visas [Darek Golik/Reuters]

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has stripped two Belarus coaches of accreditation over their role in Krystsina Tsimanouskaya’s removal from the Tokyo Games.

Athletics head coach Yury Maisevich and team official Artur Shimak have left the Olympic Village after being asked to do so, the IOC said on Friday.

“In the interest of the wellbeing of the athletes of the National Olympic Committee of Belarus (NOC) who are still in Tokyo, and as a provisional measure, the IOC cancelled and removed last night the accreditations of the two coaches,” the body said in a statement posted on Twitter.

“They will be offered an opportunity to be heard.”

The IOC’s move came five days after Tsimanouskaya, a 24-year-old sprinter, refused to board a plane bound for Belarus, claiming she feared for her safety in her homeland.

She says she was hustled to Tokyo’s Haneda airport as part of her team’s bid to force her on the flight home.

Maisevich and Shimak would return to Minsk immediately, the NOC said, adding that the pair could appeal the decision and hoped to continue a dialogue with the IOC.

The committee has previously said coaches withdrew Tsimanouskaya from the games on doctors’ advice about her emotional and psychological state – a claim she dismisses.

‘Deplorable’

The drama first unfolded on Sunday, when Tsimanouskaya refused to board the Minsk-bound plane, and instead sought protection from Japanese police.

The scandal has again focused attention on political discord in Belarus.

Tsimanouskaya on Wednesday flew to Poland, where she and her husband have been granted humanitarian visas.

IOC president Thomas Bach on Friday called the situation “deplorable”.

“We are happy Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is safe in Poland,” he told reporters in Tokyo.

Describing her ordeal, Tsimanouskaya said she defected on her grandmother’s advice.

“Grandmother called me when they were already driving me to the airport,” Tsimanouskaya said on Thursday, as she arrived in Poland. “I had some 10 seconds. She called me, all that she told me was, ‘Please do not come back to Belarus, it’s not safe.’”

She believes the decision to remove her from the games came from “high up”.

“I hope that the International Olympic Committee will make the right decision and will defend the athlete and defend me,” said Tsimanouskaya, who is expected to testify in a disciplinary commission taking place on Friday.

She said her teammates had not been in touch following Sunday’s standoff, most likely because they feared repercussions.

“They are afraid,” she said. “If they say something to support me it can end badly for them.”

‘Long-term concerns’

Al Jazeera’s Andy Richardson, reporting from Tokyo, said the case has highlighted the challenges surrounding sporting figures and events under longtime President Alexander Lukashenko.

“There have been long-term concerns about the level of government intervention in, for example, the Olympic committee there and about the discrimination of athletes who have criticised Lukashenko,” he said, adding questions were mounting over whether enough was done to “guarantee the welfare” of Belarusian athletes in Tokyo.

Lukashenko is currently under Western sanctions for leading a sweeping crackdown on opponents since last year following a disputed election.

An avid ice hockey player, the 66-year-old leader is keen to boost the country’s image by hosting international sporting events, including the 2019 European Games. He headed the NOC until he was replaced by his son, Viktor, in March.

But Belarus was stripped of its hosting rights for the men’s Ice Hockey world championships earlier this year over the forceful repression of anti-government demonstrations and lax measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

The IOC banned Lukashenko and his son from attending the Tokyo Games and has refused to recognise the election of Viktor as the NOC’s president.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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