Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is a sprinter from Belarus. She qualified for the 100 and 200 meter events in the Tokyo Games, but due to mild criticism of her coaches for lumping her into other events that she claims she never trained for, has apparently been seeking asylum from her home country.

The runner apparently had issue with being signed up against her will for a relay race, which she had not practiced for. She spoke out on Instagram, later deleting the posts, allegedly after pressure from Belarusian officials. Officials quickly removed the sprinter from competition saying they were worried about her “emotional, psychological state.” Soon after, the head coach of the Belarus team, Yuri Moisevich, visited her room and told her to pack her bags. He also stated he “…could see there was something wrong with her… She either secluded herself or didn’t want to talk,” in an interview with state television. A clear divide between nations that allow their athletes to decide for themselves as to what they should do when they encounter issues regarding mental health like in the case of Simone Biles (though that doesn’t exclude their citizens from spewing disgusting hate) and that of dictatorial regimes that call critiques of the regime mental illness, has emerged.

She was soon whisked off to the airport where she refused to board the plane officials were attempting to force her onto. Some reports, and basic understanding of punitive dictatorial regimes, may lead people to believe that the athlete was fearing for her life. She found refuge with Japanese police officers that protected the athlete while trying to figure out what was happening. Tsimanouskaya was later spotted exiting a vehicle and entering the Polish embassy. After this visit (where she she was reportedly flying the red-and-white-striped flag of the Belarusian Democratic Republic, which is a flag that has a quite complicated history, though has recently been used to support certain candidates such as Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. It has also been used as a symbol of opposition to the authoritarian rule of Lukashenko in Belarus) she was offered asylum by multiple counties, starting with Poland, who offered to grant her permission to come to the country and continue her athletic pursuits if she so chose. She has since been granted a visa to enter the country.

The Czech Republic also offered its support to the young woman, with the foreign minister, Jakub Kulhanek, calling the incident “scandalous” and stating “The Czech Republic is ready to help.” And that they “… are offering her a visa to enter the territory so that she can apply for international protection with us. Our embassy in Tokyo is also ready to help.”

Currently it seems that Tsimanouskaya is going to head to Poland, though it is yet unclear whether she will continue her athletic career from her potential new home. It does seems unsurprising, in my humble opinion, that she might have some apprehensions about returning to Belarus. It should also be mentioned that the head of the Belarus’ National Olympic Committee is Lukashenko’s oldest son. The IOC however, denied him recognition for that position. Why, you might ask, would such a corrupt institution as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) refuse to recognize this appointment? Well that’s because the turpitude of the Lukashenko regime is too perverse even for the IOC to stomach. In addition, the organization seems to take umbrage with previous accusations of persecution of athletes by the Belarusian regime.

Everyone that has been paying any sort of attention to the landlocked eastern European nation is likely to already be concerned. Lukashenko came to power after the fall of the Soviet Union under the auspices of being an anti-establishment candidate, who did not fall on either side of the political spectrum. He is now in his 6th term, yes, very normal for a “democracy.” Most recently the dictator, whose hats seem to expand almost as rapidly as his authoritarian power, has received criticism from the international community for using fighter jets to force a commercial plane to make an emergency landing so he could have a word with a blogger whom he seemed to think too critical of him.

As this is an evolving story there will likely be updates soon, whether that is Tsimanouskaya’s plane being diverted so the man whose hat grew two sizes each day can have a “chat” with a lippy young woman who can run fast, or if, HOPEFULLY, the young lady gets safely to a new home to continue her Olympic career or start fresh at a new venture.

As democracy loving individuals we cannot abide institutions like the Lukashenko dictatorship that seek to strip citizens of their freedom and the corrupt and atrociously disorganized Olympics. We need to hold rogue regimes accountable by working with them where we can find common ground and using our potential leverage to pressure authoritarian regimes (never the citizens) to accept international norms where we can’t.

Statements by Krystsina Tsimanouskaya: