An incident involving Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya has sparked an investigation after allegations were made that Belarusian coaching staff attempted to have Tsimanouskaya removed from Tokyo.
This is everything that you need to know.
Where is Belarus?
Belarus, officially the Republic of Belarus, is a country located in Eastern Europe and is bordered by Russia to the east and northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest.
The capital of Belarus, and its largest city, is Minsk, with around one-fifth of the population residing in the city.
Following World War II, Minsk had to be almost entirely rebuilt after its near destruction.
Formally it was known as Belorussia, or White Russia, until it became independent in 1991.
Alexander Lukashenko is the President of Belarus, and has been since 20 July 1994. However, Belarusians have been protesting against the Government and Lukashenko. Mass demonstrations over the last year have called out against rigged elections, and Lukashenko has ordered violent crackdowns on protesters.
Some prominent Belarusian athletes joined the protests and several were jailed, including Olympic basketball player Yelena Leuchanka and decathlete Andrei Krauchanka.
Who is Krystsina Tsimanouskaya?
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is a Belarusian Olympic sprinter who was due to compete in the 200m race on Monday, and 4x400m relay on Thursday.
She ran in the first first of the 100m races, but did not qualify for the next race.
The 24 year old has previously taken part in nine international competitions - she came in second at the 100m at the European U23 Championships in Poland, 2017, and won gold for her 200m race at the 2019 Summer Universiade in Italy.
On Sunday (1 August), Tsimanouskaya refused to board a flight from Tokyo after reportedly being taken to the airport against her wishes by her team after she complained about the national coaching staff at the Olympic Games on social media.
On Instagram, Tsimanouskaya documented what she described as “the negligence of our coaches”.
Tsimanouskaya had previously expressed her unhappiness at the fact that she had been put in for the relay event, despite not having raced in such an event before.
Tsimanouskaya was entered into the relay after members of the Belarus team were deemed unable to compete due to not having completed the sufficient number of drug tests.
She said: “Some of our girls did not fly here to compete in the 4x400m relay because they didn’t have enough doping tests.
“And the coach added me to the relay without my knowledge. I spoke about this publicly. The head coach came over to me and said there had been an order from above to remove me.”
Speaking to Reuters, Tsimanouskaya said that coaching staff had come to her room on Sunday and instructed her to pack up. She was then escorted to Haneda airport by representatives of the Belarusian Olympic team.
However, Tsimanouskaya refused to board the flight. Telling Reuters in a message over Telegram, she said: “I will not return to Belarus.”
Tsimanouskaya sought protection from Japanese police at Haneda airport, and early on Monday, Japanese lawmaker Taiga Ishikawa attempted to visit her at the sub-precinct at the airport, however police told them she was no longer there.
A video recorded by Tsimanouskaya showed the athlete appealing to the IOC for help, saying: “I am asking the International Olympic Committee for help, I have been pressured and they are trying to take me out of the country without my consent, so I am asking the IOC to intervene.”
What has the IOC said?
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Media Twitter account acknowledged the situation, writing: “The IOC has seen the reports in the media about he Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya.
“We are looking into the situation and have asked the NOC for clarification.”
The IOC then later followed up, writing: “The IOC and Tokyo 2020 have spoken to Krystsina Tsimanouskaya directly tonight. She is with the authorities at Haneda airport and is currently accompanied by a staff member of Tokyo 2020.
“She has told us that she feels safe.
“The IOC and Tokyo 2020 will continue their conversations with Krystsina Tsimanouskaya and the authorities to determine the next steps in the upcoming days.”
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said: “We were in touch with [Tsimanouskaya] last night and this morning and she feels safe and secure.
“Our first duty of care is to her, and that is what we are carrying out. Overnight she went to the police station with someone from Tokyo 2020.
“And I understand that the UNHCR is involved and the police are still engaged with the issue.”
Responding to claims that Tsimanouskaya had been “kidnapped”, Adams said: “She talked to the police at the airport. If there is a criminal matter, it needs to be looked into but is a matter for the police.
“We are 12 hours after the event so we need to get more details. We have asked the Belarus NOC for a full report but we have taken action against them in the past year.”
What has the Belarusian Olympic Committee said?
In a statement, the Belrusian Olympic Committee said that the coaches had decided to pull Tsimanouskaya from the games on doctors’ advice about her “emotional, psychological state”.
It said: “According to doctors, due to the emotional and psychological state of the Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, the coaching staff of the national athletics team decided to stop the performance of the athlete at the XXXII Olympics.
"Consequently, the athlete's application for participation in qualifying races at 200m and in the 4x400m relay was recalled.”
The head of the Bealrus athletics team in Tokyo, Yuri Moisevich, said that the decision had been made to make changes to the relay team, but had not immediately been announced so as not to disrupt the athletes’ preparations.
Speaking to state-owned broadcaster STV, Moisevich said: “We intended to tell her everything, to explain it, especially as she was a reserve.”
President Lukashenko and his son, Viktor, run the Belarusian Olympic Committee.
Both the President and his son have been banned from the Tokyo 2020 Games after the IOC received complaints from athletes regarding intimidation and reprisals following the protests that took off last year against the disputed presidential election.
What is the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation?
The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) is a foundation created by sports officials and athletes, whose goal is to provide support to athletes who have been detained and faced repercussions for taking part in “peaceful manifestations, excluded from the national teams, scratched from competitions, sacked, or stripped from stipends or salaries for expressing their political views” according to its website.
A source at the Balrusian Sport Solidarity Foundation told Reuters that Tsimanouskaya planned to request asylum from Germany or Austria.
Alexander Opeikin, a spokesman for the group, said that Tsimanouskaya was “being transported to a safe place now”.
What will happen next?
The athlete is reportedly considered seeking asylum in Europe.
French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune said it would be an “honour” if Europe were to grant Tsimanouskaya political asylum.
The BSFF has said that she is planning to seek asylym in Germany or Austria - meanwhile, both the Czech Republic and Poland have reportedly offered Tsimanouskaya a visa.