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Belarus sprinter talks of defection after forced Olympic exit

Belarus sprinter talks of defection after forced Olympic exit

Belarusian sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who left the Olympic Games in Tokyo and seeks asylum in Poland, and Belarusian opposition politician Pavel Latushka attend a news conference in Warsaw, Poland August 5, 2021. REUTERS/Darek Golik

WARSAW: Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya told Reuters on Thursday (Aug 5) 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.

The 24-year-old athlete caused a furore on Sunday when she said coaches angry at her criticism had ordered her to fly home from Tokyo. After seeking protection from Japanese police, she flew on Wednesday to Poland instead of Belarus.

Here are some excerpts from her interview with Reuters and a news conference in Warsaw. The quotes were translated into English from Russian by Reuters.

ON HER DECISION TO DEFECT

"They started to talk about my whole situation on Belarusian TV and they said I had some kind of psychological problems and my parents ... concluded I would either end up in a psychiatric hospital or in jail upon returning."

"We know such situations have already happened in our country. So my grandmother called me and said please do not come back to Belarus - it's not safe for you here. It'll be safer for you if you ask for some kind of political asylum."

"My grandmother called me just as I was being driven to the airport. We were walking to the car. I had literally 10 seconds and she called me and said 'please don't return to Belarus, it's unsafe' and she hung up.

SHOCK

"I love my country so much. It's my motherland. I was born there. I never wanted to leave. I planned for one, two or even three more Olympics ... Everything that has happened is a bit of a shock for me and I didn't think this could all end for me."

AT AIRPORT

"It was a surprise for them (the coaches). They didn't expect that I could approach the police in the airport. They think we're scared to make a move, that we are afraid to speak out, afraid to tell the truth to the whole world. But I'm not afraid."

ON POLITICS

"I've always been far from politics. I haven't signed any letters or gone to any protests. I haven't spoken out against the Belarusian government. I'm an athlete and I don't understand anything about politics. I tried to just do sport. I wanted to put all my effort into sport and not to get distracted by politics."

"This may sound cruel because terrible things were happening in our country and I was trying to keep away to the side of it, but I just wanted to go to the Olympics and do my best. I wanted to make the final and compete for medals."

"I spoke out against violence because I do not accept violence in any form, whether at protests or in families or anywhere else. I was only against violence. That's all."

HUSBAND ON THE WAY TO POLAND

"Right now I feel much better here, I feel that I'm safe and a lot of people support me here and my husband, he is already on the road by car to Poland.

"I'll wait for him today in the evening so he will be here, maybe, with me... I am just waiting for him."

Arseni Zhdanevich left home abruptly, travelling to Ukraine after his wife took refuge in the Polish embassy in Tokyo on Monday.

"I think he was shocked just like me. And initially I didn't know that he was also about to leave Belarus ... I don't remember exactly (how I found out) because of the huge amount of information that came so quickly. He called when he was already on the road, and said that he and our parents decided that he must leave too. And he quickly packed some things and left."

A trainer and a massage therapist, Zhdanevich runs a fitness business together with his wife.

"I hope that we can stay here and I will continue my sports career and my husband will be able to find a job here."

Source: Reuters/jt

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