Olympics: IOC removes 2 Belarus coaches over drama with defected sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya

Defected Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya at a press conference in Warsaw on Aug 5, 2021.
Defected Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya at a press conference in Warsaw on Aug 5, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Two Belarus coaches who cut short sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya's Tokyo Games have had their accreditation revoked and were removed from the Athletes' Village, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Friday (Aug 6).

Athletics head coach Yuri Moisevich and team official Artur Shumak were asked to leave the Olympic Village, the IOC said, days after they ordered Tsimanouskaya pack her bags and and go to the airport.

In an exclusive interview with Reuters in Warsaw on Thursday, the athlete said the two officials had told her the order to send her home came from "high up" in Belarus.

In a saga reminiscent of Cold War sporting defections, Tsimanouskaya caused a furore on Sunday when she refused to board a flight home and sought protection from Japanese police before seeking asylum in Poland, where she was reunited with her husband on Thursday.

The 24-year-old athlete's case threatens to further isolate Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been under Western sanctions after a crackdown on opponents since last year and whose son heads the national Olympic committee.

"We are not the ones who made the decision, we are only executing it," Tsimanouskaya said the two officials told her. "You have 40 minutes. You have to pack your things and go to the airport."

Lukashenko's spokesman did not respond to a request for comment after Tsimanouskaya's interview.

Tsimanouskaya said she decided to defect as she was being driven to a Tokyo airport because her grandmother told her that it was not safe to return home to Belarus.

She said she would testify in a disciplinary commission on Friday and urged the IOC to defend her and other athletes.

"I hope that the International Olympic Committee will make the right decision and will defend the athletes and defend me," she said.

The IOC has come under scrutiny for failing to prevent the athlete from being removed from the Games for expressing her views about coaching staff.

In the past, the Olympics' organising body has acted swiftly to suspend athletes, officials or team members - even those with provisionally pending investigations - from the Olympics.

"In the interest of the well-being of the athletes of the National Olympic Committee of Belarus who are still in Tokyo, and as a provisional measure, the IOC cancelled and removed last night the accreditation of the two coaches," the IOC said.

"They will be offered an opportunity to be heard."

The Belarus Olympic team in Tokyo did not comment on Friday. The Belarus National Olympic Committee (NOC) and the coaches have said that they withdrew Tsimanouskaya from the Games on doctors' advice about her emotional and psychological state.

The Olympic movement has had close ties with the Belarusian government.

International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel frequently visited the former Soviet country as it prepared to host the men's world championships this year.

Belarus was later stripped of its hosting rights over the crackdown against anti-government demonstrators and its lax measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Belarusian leader Lukashenko, an avid hockey player, has been keen to boost the country's prestige by hosting international sporting events, including the 2019 European Games.

Mr Spyros Capralos, head of the European Olympic Committees and now an IOC member, worked as the event's coordination commission chief. IOC president Thomas Bach congratulated Lukashenko on the event's "excellent organisation".

The IOC banned Lukashenko and his son Viktor from attending the Games back in December, and in March refused to recognise the election of the latter as president of the NOC.

Tsimanouskaya, who told Reuters the IOC had acted quickly when she was taken to the airport and remained in contact with her, said her teammates had not been in touch, most likely because they feared repercussions.

"I think that they don't support me because they are afraid," she said. "If they say something to support me, it can end badly for them."

On the track at the 4x400m heats on Thursday, Belarusian athletes were tight-lipped about Tsimanouskaya's situation.

"The team continues to fulfil their duties and take part in the competition," said hurdler Elvira Herman, who ran the 4x400m relay for Belarus on Thursday. "We came here to take part in the Olympics, not to cause problems."