Belarusian olympic athletes: Lukashenko’s favorites or most feared opponents?

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Krystsina Tsimanouskaya taken on July 11, 2019 in Naples, Italy. (Image:

As a keen ice hockey player and former head of the Belarusian National Olympic Committee, Luckashenko ‘loves’ his country’s athletes who are taking part in the 2020 Olympics games in Tokyo. However, his love does not seem to be very unconditional as the sportsmen become his main target for reprisals as soon as they dare to open their mouth about the ongoing human rights violations in their country. As the sporting administration is onder direct government control, the formerly favorized and honoured members of society, suddenly turn into public enemies when they decide to speak up. And that is exactly what they did.

More than a thousand athletes signed an open letter calling for new elections, an end to the ongoing ill-treatment and torture and a stop of arrest who are peacefully demonstrating. According to the Sports Solidary Foundation a total of 95 athletes have been detained for taking part in peaceful protests, seven of them have been charged with political offences for their peaceful opposition to the government, and 124 have suffered other forms of repression including 35 athletes and trainers who have been dropped from the national team.

Earlier today, athlete Krystsina Tsimanoeskaja applied for Asylum at the Polish Embassy in Japan. The young sprinter was forced to get on a plain to Minsk after publishing a video a few days ago in which she strongly critized the Belarusian Athletic federation. According to Tsimanoeskaja, the forceful return was solely based on the criticism she outed and not in the slightest on the claimed injury she supposedly got. She feared to be the victim of reprises and to be put in detention when setting a foot on Belarusian grounds. Luckily the Japanese authorities were there to help her out and take her under their protection.

Anoter good example that demonstrates how the sporting administration is closely entangled to the state, is three times Olympic medal winner, Alyaksandra Herasimienia, who now runs swimming training schools for children in Belarus. As soon as she spoke out to Amnesty International, she lost all contracts with the state-owned swimming pools across the country that she rented for her swimming classes and was therefore unable to teach the children. Alyasksandra and the Sport Solidarity foundation’s succesfully lobbied the international Olympic committee to demand to replace Lukashenko as the head of the National Olympic committee, but were immediately after rewarded with criminal charges for “inciting actions aimed at damaging the national security of Belarus,” a crime punishable by up to seven years’ imprisonment.

The two-time Olympic champion basket player, Yelena Leuchanka, was arrested at the Minsk airport after signing the open letter and sharing her opinion on social media platforms. According to Leuchenka’s testimony, she had to stay in a 15 days in a four-person cell with five people, sleeping without a mattress on the metal frames of a bed .

A lot of Belarusian athletes have been training for years and years and are still willing to put it all at risk by daring to speak up against the government. This really shows the urge to make changes in the current Belarusian government. On 9 August the Belarusian Sport Foundation are launching their on-line marathon in support of Belarusian athletes, and we encourage everyone to stand in solidarity with persecuted Belarusian athletes.

Source: ‘News: Belarus: Once a showcase of the country’s succes, sport is nog a battleground for reprisals’, Amnesty International 2021.

Florence Van den Bergh

Florence Van den Bergh

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