A Belarusian Olympic sprinter who feared for her safety back home after she openly criticized her coaches left Tokyo on a Vienna-bound flight on Wednesday.
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya’s move followed a dramatic diplomatic spat with her team after refusing to board a flight home late on Sunday, saying she had been taken to the airport against her will.
Poland granted the 24-year-old runner a humanitarian visa after she said she feared for her safety if she returned home to Belarus.
Vadim Krivosheyev, an activist with the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, told the AP news agency that Tsimanouskaya took the flight to Austria on the advice of Polish authorities, citing security reasons.
Tsimanouskaya is expected to fly to Warsaw later on Wednesday after landing in Vienna. Her husband is also due to arrive in Warsaw on Wednesday, an NGO that supports the Belarusian opposition said.
The athlete had taken to social media to complain “about the negligence of our coaches” over reportedly entering her into the 4x400m relay race at short notice.
Belarusian officials then barred her from competing in the 200m event.
They “made it clear that, upon return home, I would definitely face some form of punishment,” she told the Associated Press in an exclusive interview.
“There were also thinly disguised hints that more would await me.”
Belarus athletics head coach Yuri Moiseevich told state TV that Tsimanouskaya was withdrawn over her “emotional, psychological state.”
The sprinter, who hopes to continue her athletics career in Poland, denied that she had been suffering from any medical problems.
Belarus has been gripped by political upheaval and a crackdown on dissent for nearly one year.
Strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko, once dubbed Europe’s last dictator, claimed victory in last August’s elections widely believed to have been rigged.
He has since jailed thousands of political opponents , while his opponent Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has fled to Lithuania.
Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron fist since taking power in 1994
Tsimanouskaya was one of more than 2,000 Belarusian sports figures who signed an open letter calling for new elections and for political prisoners to be freed.
But she dismissed claims made by her former teammates that she had been planning to seek asylum elsewhere long before arriving in Japan.
“Everything that is happening now absolutely wasn’t in my plans,” she said.
Her husband has now fled to Ukraine and the pair are expected to meet up once she is back in Europe.
The International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday it had launched a formal investigation into Tsimanouskaya’s case and is demanding answers from the Belarusian team.
fb, jf/nm (AP, AFP, Reuters)