It’s one of those stories that has become commonplace in Belarus, but which the context of the Tokyo Olympics has elevated to the rank of an international incident: Belarusian sprinter Kristina Timanovskaïa was offered by Poland a “Humanitarian visa”, a prelude to political asylum, after having had to ask the Japanese police for help to avoid a forced return to Minsk. The 24-year-old sportswoman had just been excluded from the Games by her delegation, and was preparing to board at Tokyo airport.
From Japan to Poland
The International Olympic Committee has since taken hold of the case and ensured that the athlete – who spent the night from Sunday to Monday in a hotel at the airport in Tokyo – was now safe. Kristina Timanovskaïa then went to the Polish embassy and could, as of Wednesday, August 4, join this country which has become a welcoming land for part of the Belarusian opposition since the fraudulent re-election of Alexander Lukashenko in August 2020. “I’m not afraid of being fired, or ejected from the national team” she confided, Sunday August 1 to the Belarusian sports media Tribuna, “I’m afraid of being sent to prison”.
The account of the sportswoman, as well as a recording of a conversation between the latter and the coach of the Belarusian athletics team Yuri Moissevich, paints the portrait of a Belarusian delegation tense to the extreme, a few days later. that the authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko publicly criticized national athletes for their lack of a medal. To the point of transforming a slippage of communication into an open mark of dissent.
→ READ. Belarus: President Alexander Lukashenko in Moscow’s arms
For Kristina Timanovskaïa, an athlete hitherto isolated from the protest movement that has shaken the country for more than a year, everything starts in fact from a disagreement at first sight not very political: on July 30, she is indignant in a video posted on Instagram of having been aligned at the last moment by her federation in the 4×400 meter relay, a test and a distance for which the sprinter has never trained.
She quickly deleted her message, too late however to avoid a scandal which just as quickly pushed the Belarusian authorities to exclude her from the competition. Reason given: “Psychological and emotional state” of the athlete, revealed according to the authorities by a medical examination.
“You could break their fate”
“The authorities do not tolerate anything that can discredit those who seized power in Belarus, and in Kristina’s case, they have lost control of the situation” thinks Vadim Krivosheev, representative of the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation and former director of the Belarusian Olympic diving preparation center. Dismissed in September 2020, after showing his support for the opposition, he now participates in this NGO supporting Belarusian athletes targeted by the repression of power.
To convince her to leave Japan quietly, Belarusian officials do not hesitate, according to the recording (whose authenticity has not been confirmed), to pour into a heavy blackmail of threat: “You accuse people all over the country without understanding why or how, and your stupidity could make these people lose their jobs, you could break their fate” thus launches a member of the Belarusian delegation.
“The best is that you take your ticket and leave” abounds in the same recording Yuri Moissevitch. “Everything will be done discreetly, you take your ticket, tomorrow you will be on a plane and you will leave (…) You are a strong person, and the real strength is knowing when to retreat” adds the official, taking, without batting an eyelid, the example of Russian General Mikhail Koutouzov and his decision to abandon Moscow to Napoleon’s troops.
Faced with the tension of a delegation lacking medals, the Japanese episode has the air of forced dissent for this sportswoman who has remained apolitical until then. Remained in Belarus, the husband of Kristina Timanovskaïa, also a professional athlete, fled to neighboring Ukraine on August 1, not without confiding to the American media Sky News than “We have never supported the opposition, we are simply sportsmen”.
But the cases of this type have multiplied for a year, while the sports field had represented one of the hearts of the protest: a week after the presidential election of August 9, 2020, more than 900 Belarusian sportsmen, including several athletes Olympics, condemned the result of the election as much as the fierce repression that followed it.
A situation that dozens of them will pay for by arrest or exile, and which will lead, a few months later, to the exclusion of President Alexander Lukashenko from the Belarusian Olympic Committee and the cancellation of the world hockey championships. ice cream in Minsk.