Athletics investigators take over Belarus Olympic case

Published October 1, 2021
In this file photo, Belarusian Sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya who took refuge in the Polish embassy in Tokyo, looks on while boarding a flight to Vienna at Narita International Airport. — Reuters/File
In this file photo, Belarusian Sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya who took refuge in the Polish embassy in Tokyo, looks on while boarding a flight to Vienna at Narita International Airport. — Reuters/File

MONACO: An investigation into two Belarus team officials who tried to force sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya on a flight from the Tokyo Olympics will now be run by track and field authorities.

World Athletics said on Thursday its independent Athletics Integrity Unit is taking over the case from the International Olympic Committee. No timetable was given for the investigation.

The Belarus team’s treatment of Tsimanouskaya created a diplomatic incident at the Tokyo Olympics with Japanese authorities and Poland’s embassy coming to her aid.

Team officials Artur Shimak and Yury Maisevich were involved in taking Tsimanouskaya to the airport to send her home to Belarus after she criticised coaches on social media, but she managed to attract the attention of the Japanese authorities who intervened.

The 24-year-old Tsimanouskaya sought help at the airport because she feared for her safety if she returned to Minsk. Within days, she and her husband got humanitarian visas to stay in Poland.

Belarus has been in turmoil amid a state-ordered security crackdown since August 2020 when authoritarian president Aleksander Lukashenko claimed a sixth term after an election widely viewed as rigged in his favor. The former Soviet republic has relentlessly pursued its critics.

Shimak and Maisevich continued to have contact with Belarus team members in Tokyo for four more days after the airport incident until the IOC withdrew their Olympic credentials.

IOC President Thomas Bach said in Tokyo it was a deplorable case.

The IOC last year banned both Lukashenko and his son Viktor from attending future Olympics after athletes said they faced reprisals and intimidation in the security crackdown.

Lukashenko led the Belarusian Olympic committee from the 1990s until this year when his son replaced him.

Still, the IOC had been urged for months ahead of Tokyo by activists in Belarus and international groups representing athletes to fully suspend the national Olympic committee. That would have let Tsimanouskaya and the rest of the 103-member Belarusian team compete in Tokyo as independents under the Olympic flag.

Tsimanouskaya had criticised her coaches for asking her to run in an event she had not trained for. She was needed to replace athletes ruled ineligible because of a substandard national anti-doping programme.

World Athletics said its investigators in the Belarus case will conduct the procedure, with the full collaboration and support of the IOC.

“The IOC and World Athletics have jointly agreed to continue the investigation and to open a formal procedure vis--vis the two aforementioned coaches,” World Athletics said in a statement.

“To this effect, and given that the Olympic Games have now concluded, it has been decided that the AIU the independent body created by World Athletics to manage all integrity issues (both doping-related and non-doping-related) for the sport of athletics will conduct the procedure.

“The AIU will publish the outcome of its investigation when this has been finalised.”

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2021

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