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‘Affront to basic rights’: US officials wade into row surrounding Belarusian Olympic sprinter Timanovskaya as IOC demands answers

Olympic athlete Timanovskaya sought protection from Japanese police at Haneda airport in Tokyo on Sunday after saying she had been ordered to return to Belarus against her wishes.

The 24-year-old has since taken refuge at the Polish embassy in Tokyo after Warsaw offered her a humanitarian visa.

Timanovskaya was seen entering the Polish embassy in Tokyo on Monday. © Reuters

The scandal has rocked the Games, with IOC spokesman Mark Adams confirming on Tuesday that the organization had set up a formal investigation and was expecting answers from the Belarusian National Olympic Committee by the end of Tuesday.

“We want it (a report) today. We have decided to launch a formal investigation. We need to establish the full facts. We need to hear everyone involved,” Adams said.

The row erupted when Timanovskaya accused Belarusian Olympic officials of incompetence, complaining about her unexpected inclusion in the 4x400m relay after some of her teammates had been found to be ineligible.

The runner had been due to take part in the 200m in Tokyo on Monday but was withdrawn and said she was later taken to the airport against her will. Timanovskaya says she fears being jailed for her dissent, should she return to Belarus.  

US Ambassador to Belarus Julie Fisher tweeted her condemnation, claiming “the Lukashenko regime” was trying to “discredit and humiliate this athlete for expressing her views.”

Timanovskaya’s husband, however, claimed that the couple were not politically active.  

“We never had any connections, never supported the opposition,” he said.

“We’re just normal sports people, we’re just devoted to sports and we’re not interested in the opposition movement.”

The head of the Belarusian athletics team in Tokyo, Yuri Moisevich, claimed Timanovskaya had been “acting strangely” before the scandal.

“Unfortunately, it turned out the way it turned out. In general, it’s strange,” Moisevich was quoted as saying on Belarusian TV. 

“We didn’t even expect it. But, having already compared all these aspects, we understand that, maybe, Timanovskaya planned something,” 

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