Two Belarusian athletics coaches who tried to kidnap sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya from the Tokyo Olympics have been sent home in disgrace.
Artur Shumak, head coach of the athletics team, and Yuri Moisevich, deputy director of the country’s athletics academy, were spotted at Tokyo’s Narita airport checking in for a flight on Friday.
It comes a day after the pair were stripped of their Olympic accreditation and kicked out of Athlete’s Village for trying to force 24-year-old Tsimanouskaya on to a plane home after she criticised them online.
The International Olympic Committee has also launched disciplinary proceedings against the pair. It is unclear what action, if any, they are facing back home.
Artur Shumak and Yuri Moisevich, the two Belarus coaches who tried to kidnap sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya from the Tokyo Olympics, left the event in disgrace today
The pair were pictured at Tokyo’s Narita airport boarding a flight back home, a day after they were stripped of accreditation and kicked out of Athlete’s Village
Shumak (left) and Moisevich (right) said nothing as they were followed through the airport by journalists documenting their inglorious exit
The pair had tried to force Tsimanouskaya on to a plane back to Belarus on Sunday where ‘punishment’ awaited her after she criticised them online
The coaches showed little emotion as cameras captured their inglorious exit from the Games with their faces hidden behind masks.
Belarus’s Olympic committee – headed up by dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s son Viktor – said the two coaches will return to Minsk immediately.
A spokesman added that they can appeal the decision and hope to continue a dialogue with the IOC.
IOC president Thomas Bach called Tsimanouskaya’s case ‘deplorable’ on Friday and said the disciplinary commission over her case would continue.
‘We are happy Krystsina Tsimanouskaya is safe in Poland,’ Bach said.
Narita airport is on the outskirts of Tokyo, 40 miles from Haneda airport where drama played out with Tsimanouskaya a little under a week ago.
Shumak and Moisevich had dragged the sprinter to the airport on Sunday after receiving an order from above that she should be sent home.
According to Tsimanouskaya’s version of events, the duo told her that she was facing ‘punishment’ over an Instagram post that she had uploaded criticising them.
Tsimanouskaya hit out after being entered into the 4x400m relay without her knowledge – an event she has never trained for – because the coaches had failed to provide enough anti-doping information to allow other athletes to compete.
Tsimanouskaya is now in Poland, having handed herself over to Japanese police who helped her reach the country’s embassy in Tokyo where she was granted asylum
The 24-year-old gave a press conference in Warsaw Thursday alongside Belarus’s exiled culture minister (left), urging other people to speak out against the regime
Once at the airport, Tsimanouskaya had refused to board the plane and instead handed herself over to Japanese police, saying she was being taken against her will.
She was taken to an airport hotel for the night under police guard, and the following day was taken to the Polish embassy, where she claimed asylum.
Poland – which has taken in a number of dissidents who have fled the Lukashenko regime – subsequently offered her a humanitarian visa and she boarded a flight to Europe on Wednesday.
But, rather than fly straight to Warsaw, Tsimanouskaya went via a last-minute diversion to Austria – an apparent attempt to stop Lukashenko from hijacking the flight, as he did in May with a Ryanair plane carrying an opposition journalist.
The athlete arrived safely in Poland on Thursday where she will now begin a new life with husband Arseny Zdanevich, who fled Belarus for Ukraine after learning that she was being targeted by the regime.
He is currently en route to Poland, and is due to arrive there today.
Speaking at a press conference in Warsaw on Thursday, she said she was happy to be safe and in the country – while vowing to continue her sporting career.
‘I want to tell all Belarusians to not to be afraid and if they’re under pressure, speak out,’ she added.
She appeared alongside Pavel Latushko – Belarus’s former minister of culture who has also fled into asylum after falling foul of the regime.
Shumak and Moisevich are now facing sanctions from the IOC and possible action by their country’s own Olympic committee, run by dictator Lukashenko’s son Viktor
The two coaches made no comment and showed no emotion as they boarded their flight at Narita airport, 40 miles from Haneda airport where the drama with Tsimanouskaya played out
The coaches collect their bags as they board a flight back to Minsk from Tokyo on Friday
It was separately revealed that Tsimanouskaya had made her decision not to go back to Belarus after her grandmother – who is still in the country – had warned her that state media had launched a smear campaign against her, branding her ‘mentally ill’.
That convinced her that she would be targeted by the regime on her return home, and made her fear for her safety.
Alexander Lukashenko, known as Europe’s last dictator, has been leading a brutal crackdown on dissenters since mass demonstrations against his rule last year.
The marches – the biggest in Belarus’s post-Soviet history – were sparked after he claimed victory in an election that is widely viewed as rigged.
Police have arrested thousands of activists who say they have been beaten and electrocuted in prisons which amount to little more than state torture camps.
At least 10 people have died as a result, according to activist groups.
Meanwhile, opposition leader Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya – who ran against Lukashenko in the election after her husband, who was originally running, was arrested – has been forced to flee to Lithuania.
It came after her family and offices were targeted in raids by police.
The crackdown prompted western powers to levy sanctions on Belarus, which were sharply ramped up after the Ryanair plane was hijacked so that opposition journalist Roman Protasevich could be arrested.
The EU has since promised tens of billions of dollars in investment for Belarus, as and when democracy is established within the country
However, world leaders have stopped short of directly calling for regime change.
As his ties with the West have weakened, Lukashenko has drawn his country closer to Russia – relying on President Putin for financial support and security.
Tsimanouskaya sought police help at Haneda airport in Tokyo on Sunday, claiming she was being kidnapped before officers to her to a ‘secure’ location where she remained overnight
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, is pictured entering the Polish embassy in Tokyo where she was holed up after Belarus Olympic officials tried to kidnap her
The Olympic movement has had close ties with the Belarusian government.
Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), frequently visited the former Soviet country as it prepared to host the men’s world championships this year.
Belarus was later stripped of its hosting rights over the crackdown against anti-government demonstrators and its lax measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lukashenko, an avid hockey player, has been keen to boost the country’s prestige by hosting international sporting events, including the 2019 European Games.
Spyros Capralos, head of the European Olympic Committees and now an IOC member, worked as the event’s coordination commission chief. Bach had congratulated Lukashenko on the event’s ‘excellent organisation.’
The IOC banned Lukashenko and his son Viktor from attending the Games back in December, and in March refused to recognise the election of Viktor Lukashenko as president of the NOC.
Tsimanouskaya, who told Reuters the IOC had acted quickly when she was taken to the airport and remained in contact with her, said her team mates had not been in touch, most likely because they feared repercussions.
‘I think that they don’t support me because they are afraid,’ she said. ‘If they say something to support me it can end badly for them.’
On the track at 4×400 metre heats on Thursday, Belarusian athletes were tight-lipped about Tsimanouskaya’s situation.
‘The team continues to fulfil their duties and take part in the competition,’ said hurdler Elvira Herman, who ran the 4x400m relay for Belarus on Thursday.
‘We came here to take part in the Olympics, not to cause problems.’