Belarusian Olympian Krystsina Tsimanouskaya left Japan on a flight to Vienna on Wednesday and was due to head to Poland, where she was offered a humanitarian visa.
The 24-year-old was supposed to take a direct flight to Warsaw, but changed at the last minute, an airport official told reporters.
She boarded the flight at Narita Airport outside Tokyo after traveling from the Polish Embassy where she had spent the last two nights following claims her team attempted to force her to return home after criticizing her coaches.
The sprinter refused to speak to the media at the airport.
Tsimanouskaya on Sunday asked for the protection of Tokyo 2020 officials, saying she was forced to return to Belarus, which has been rocked by political upheaval and a crackdown on dissent after contested elections which brought strongman Alexander Lukashenko back in power last year.
The sprinter was one of more than 2,000 Belarusian sports figures who signed an open letter calling for new elections and the release of political prisoners.
Her husband has now fled to Ukraine and the couple are expected to meet in Poland, which is a staunch critic of the Lukashenko regime and home to a growing number of dissidents.
Tsimanouskaya arrived at the Polish embassy on Monday evening after spending a night in an airport hotel after asking for help avoiding what she said was an attempt by her team to force her home.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Tuesday he spoke with “courageous” Tsimanouskaya, who is “currently well taken care of and safe”.
“I assured her that she could count on the support and solidarity of Poland. In the next few days, she will fly to Warsaw, where she will be able to flourish without obstacles and, if she wishes, will benefit from additional assistance, ”he said. wrote on Facebook.
The International Olympic Committee has said it will investigate the Belarusian Olympic team over the incident, but activists have called for the country’s Olympic committee to be suspended and its athletes to compete as neutrals.
– An activist found hanged –
The NGO Global Athlete declared that “the alleged kidnapping of Tsimanouskaya … is another example of the alarming abuse of athletes in Belarus”.
Lukashenko and his son Viktor were banned from Olympic events for targeting athletes because of their political views.
Shortly before the Tokyo Games, Lukashenko warned sports officials and athletes that he expected results in Japan.
“Think about it before you go,” he said. “If you come back with nothing, you better not come back at all.” ”
The alleged attempt to return Tsimanouskaya to Belarus has drawn condemnation, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accusing the Lukashenko government of “another act of transnational repression”.
Lukashenko, in power since 1994, sparked international outrage in May by sending a fighter jet to intercept a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania in order to arrest a dissident on board.
Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski appeared to be referring to the incident when he refused to confirm whether Tsimanouskaya would fly on Wednesday as had been said, citing security.
The Olympic saga came as Ukrainian police said a missing Belarusian activist, whose NGO is helping his compatriots flee the country, was found hanged in a park in Kiev.
Police said they had opened a murder investigation and would pursue all leads, including “murder disguised as suicide”, while activists accused Belarus of “an operation (…) to liquidate a Belarusian who presented a real danger to the regime ”.
The UN called on the Ukrainian authorities to conduct a “thorough, impartial and effective investigation” into the death.
© 2021 AFP