Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya claims she was taken to Tokyo’s Haneda airport against her wishes on Sunday night after she made complaints about her national coaching staff at the Games on social media. She has refused to board a flight to return to Belarus in fears she will be jailed upon her return, and has publicly asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for help in her alleged forced removal.

The 24-year-old Belarusian athlete criticised coaching staff on her Instagram over the weekend, when she was told that she had been entered into the 4x400m relay without her knowledge.

Per the ABC, Tsimanouskaya has run the 100m heats on Friday, and was taken to the airport by Belarusian team representatives on Sunday – a day before she was due to compete in the 200 metre heats. There, she refused to board a flight back to Belarus and sought protection from Japanese police.

“Some of our girls did not fly here to compete in the 4×400 metre relay because they didn’t have enough doping tests,” she told Reuters from the airport.

“And the coach added me to the relay without my knowledge. I spoke about this publicly. The head coach came over to me and said there had been an order from above to remove me.”

The Belarusian National Olympic Committee (NOC) released a statement, saying she had been withdrawn from Tokyo 2020 on doctors’ advice, citing her “emotional, psychological state” as the main reason for her removal from competing.

In the early hours of Monday morning, the IOC made a statement on Twitter confirming Tsimanouskaya had been in contact with Games officials.

The statement also confirmed she was with authorities and Tokyo 2020 staff at Haneda airport, and she told them that she “feels safe” currently. The IOC has said it will be working with Tsimanouskaya and authorities to figure out the next steps for her future over the coming days.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarus’ opposition leader who lives in self-exile in Lithuania, spoke strongly against Tsimanouskaya’s treatment, and demanded the IOC launch an investigation into the violation of athletes’ rights by Belarus’ NOC, and its wider management of athletes.

The attempt to force Tsimanouskaya on a plane back to Belarus comes after athletes joined peaceful protests in Minsk late 2020, disputing the country’s last election which maintained President Alexander Lukashenko control.

Lukashenko’s son, Viktor Lukashenko, is currently the president of the Belarus Olympic Committee.

Image: Getty Images / Ivan Romano