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Belarus coaches removed from Tokyo Olympics after sprinter takes refuge in Poland

Sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya said she feared for her safety and that her team’s officials tried to force her to fly home.

TOKYO, Japan — The International Olympic Committee says it has removed two Belarus team coaches from the Olympics, four days after they were involved in trying to send sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya back to Belarus.

RELATED: Belarus runner alleges Olympic team tried to send her home

The IOC says it canceled and removed the credentials of Artur Shimak and Yury Maisevich.

The IOC says the men “were requested to leave the Olympic Village immediately and have done so … in the interest of the wellbeing of the athletes.”

Shimak and Maisevich continued to have contact with Belarus athletes since Sunday after the IOC linked them to taking Tsimanouskaya in a car to the airport to put her on a plane to Belarus.

Tsimanouskaya had criticized team coaches on social media and is now in Poland with a humanitarian visa.

RELATED: Poland grants visa to Belarus Olympian who fears for safety

The IOC says Shimak and Maisevich “will be offered an opportunity to be heard” by its disciplinary commission investigating the case.

RELATED: Court denied Belarus sprinter's legal bid to run in Olympics

The current standoff apparently began after Tsimanouskaya criticized how officials were managing her team — setting off a massive backlash in state-run media back home, where authorities relentlessly crack down on government critics. The runner said on her Instagram account that she was put in the 4x400 relay even though she has never raced in the event.

The runner was then apparently hustled to the airport but refused to board a flight for Istanbul and instead approached police for help. In a filmed message distributed on social media, she also asked the International Olympic Committee for assistance.

“I was put under pressure, and they are trying to forcibly take me out of the country without my consent,” the 24-year-old said in the message.

The rapid-fire series of events brought international political intrigue to an Olympics that have been more focused on operational dramas, like maintaining safety during a pandemic and navigating widespread Japanese opposition to holding the event at all.

Belarus’ authoritarian government has relentlessly targeted anyone even mildly expressing dissent since a presidential election a year ago triggered a wave of unprecedented mass protests. And it has also gone to extremes to stop its critics, including the recent plane diversion that European officials called an act of air piracy.

In this context, Tsimanouskaya feared for her safety once she saw the campaign against her in state media, according to the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation, the activist group that is helping her.

“The campaign was quite serious and that was a clear signal that her life would be in danger in Belarus,” Alexander Opeikin, a spokesman for the foundation, told the AP in an interview.

State media have continued to come down hard on Tsimanouskaya. Presenters on state TV channel Belarus 1 called her decision to seek asylum “a cheap stunt” and “a disgusting act,” and described her performance at the Olympics as a “failure.”

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