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Belarus Olympic athlete Kristina Timanovskaya says she is 'safe'

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1 August 2021, 19.13

Belarusian athlete Kristina Timanovskaya said Sunday she was "safe" and under police protection in Japan after claiming her country had forced her to leave the Tokyo Olympics.

"I am safe and they are in the process of deciding where I am going to spend the night," Timanovskaya said in a statement on Telegram published by the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF), an organisation that supports opposition athletes.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo Games organisers said "they have spoken to Kristina Timanovskaya 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 24-year-old said team officials had tried to remove her from Japan after she criticised Belarus's athletics federation for entering her into a relay race in Tokyo without giving her notice.

"It turns out our great bosses as always decided everything for us," she had said on her Instagram stories that are no longer available.

Timanovskaya later said in a separate Instagram post that she wouldn't have "reacted so harshly if I had been told in advance, explained the whole situation and asked if I was able to run 400 metres."

"But they decided to do everything behind my back," she added.

The BSSF said Belarus officials had tried to "deport" Timanovskaya.

The group said earlier that the sprinter, who had been due to compete in the women's 200 metres heats in the Olympic Stadium on Monday, was at a Tokyo airport with Belarusian team officials and posted a video in which the athlete appealed to the IOC.

"I am under pressure and they are trying to take me out of the country without my consent. I ask the International Olympic Committee to interfere," Timanovskaya said in the video.

Later the opposition group issued the statement confirming she was safe.

The Belarusian Olympic Committee had claimed that Timanovskaya left the Tokyo Games on medical advice because of her "emotional and psychological state".

But, speaking through the BSSF, Timanovskaya said that claim was "not true" and said she had not been examined by doctors.

The IOC said earlier in a statement to AFP: "The IOC has seen the reports in the media, is looking into the situation and has asked the NOC (Belarus Olympic officials) for clarification."

BSSF was founded last August by retired Belarusian swimmer Aliaksandra Herasimenia, as protests erupted after the disputed re-election of strongman President Alexander Lukashenko.

Herasimenia -- who now lives in exile in Lithuania -- sold her 2012 world championship gold medal to raise funds for the foundation.

It provides financial and legal assistance to athletes targeted by the authorities after calling for an end to the violent police crackdown on demonstrators.

The turmoil has led to Belarus being stripped of hosting this year's ice hockey world championship and a ban on Lukashenko attending Olympic events.