By Stefan J. Bos
As night fell in rainy Tokyo, reporters and supporters awaited news from the Polish embassy where a Belarussian athlete is now hiding.
Twenty-four-year old sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya was at the embassy Monday after spending the night secure in a hotel under protection from Japanese police.
Polish foreign ministry official Marcin Przydacz said Tsimanouskaya has been "offered a humanitarian visa and is free to pursue her sporting career in Poland if she so chooses."
Tsimanouskaya said in a statement on social media monitored that she was forcibly taken to the airport for criticizing state-backed coaches and voiced fears for her safety. "I ask the International committee to help me," she explained. "I was put under pressure, and they are trying to take me out of the country without my consent forcibly. So I ask the IOC to intervene."
The spokesperson of the International Olympic Committee, Mark Adams, suggested to journalists that the IOC and organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Games had been concerned about her safety. "She assured us and has assured us that she feels safe and secure. She spent the night at an airport hotel, at a safe and secure environment," Adams said.
"The IOC and Tokyo 2020 will continue their conversations with her and the Japanese authorities to determine the next step in the upcoming days," he added.
However, Belarus says she was removed from the team because of what it called her "emotional" state.
Tsimanouskaya’s case resembles incidents during the Cold War when scores of athletes escaped the then Communist-run Soviet Union and satellite states.
Belarus, a former Soviet republic, is ruled by authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has reportedly jailed athletes for links to pro-democracy protests.
Most prominent opposition figures are either jailed or in exile. In addition, a growing number of people try to escape Belarus. However, Belarus has also been accused of putting pressure on the European Union by encouraging illegal international migration from its territory into the EU.
European Union officials on Monday pledged millions of euros to neighbor Lithuania to help it tackle a migrant crisis that Brussels blames on the government of authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko.
Ylva Johansson, the EU commissioner of Home Affairs, was in Lithuania on Sunday when a record 287 people walked into the EU territory from neighboring Belarus. That was more than three times as many as in the whole of last year. "This is a provocation of the Lukashenko regime. Therefore, we must show that there is no free access to EU territory," Johansson stressed.
So far this year, nearly 4,000 migrants were detained in Lithuania, authorities say. That compares with 81 for the whole of 2020. More than two-thirds of the arrivals are Iraqi citizens.
Iraqi airlines have increased flights from Baghdad to Minsk from two to four a week starting this month and are also beginning flights from other areas.
Belarus allegedly uses migrants to put pressure on the EU. Minsk is furious that Brussels imposed sanctions on Belarus to protest President Lukashenko's crackdown on dissent.
Mass anti-government protests broke out after last year's disputed presidential election that Lukashenko claims he won.