The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has launched an investigation into the case of the sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya and demanded Belarus respond on Tuesday to allegations that officials tried to bundle her on a flight back to Minsk for her criticism on social media.
Tsimanouskaya has received a humanitarian visa to Poland after saying she was threatened by team officials for going public with her complaints about their “negligence”. She had appealed to the IOC from Haneda airport to intervene in her case before appealing to police for protection.
An IOC spokesperson, Mark Adams, said that the organisation had demanded Belarus deliver a report on the incident by the end of Tuesday. “We want [the report] today. We have decided to launch a formal investigation. We need to establish the full facts. We need to hear everyone involved.”
The IOC could sanction or even suspend the Belarus National Olympic Committee (NOC) over the incident, though it is not certain that a decision would come during the games.
“That obviously can take time. We need to get to the bottom of it. How long that will take I do not know,” Adams told reporters.
The Belarusian government has signalled that it will defend a decision to remove Tsimanouskaya from the games, claiming that she had an emotional breakdown. But the emergence of leaked audio showing a Belarusian official threatening Tsimanouskaya would prove especially damning if accepted as genuine by the IOC.
The Belarus NOC could not immediately be reached for comment and it is not clear that it will deliver a report by the IOC deadline.
Several activist groups, including those representing Belarusian athletes, have called on the IOC to suspend the Belarus NOC.
On Monday, the activist group Global Athlete wrote: “If the IOC stands for human rights, anything less than a suspension is a gross abdication of their duty of care to athletes.”
Last year, the IOC suspended the Belarusian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, from the games and all Olympic activities for failing to protect athletes from political discrimination. He had previously led the Belarus NOC for 23 years. In March, the body refused to recognise his son Viktor as the new head of the Olympic committee.
Lukashenko, the leader of Belarus since 1994, has launched a broad crackdown on opposition in the country following protests over disputed elections that handed him his sixth consecutive term in power. Dozens of athletes and coaches have been punished with suspensions for supporting the protests and some have faced jail time.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, also attacked Belarus’s attempt to send Tsimanouskaya home.
“Such actions violate the Olympic spirit, are an affront to basic rights, and cannot be tolerated,” Blinken wrote on Twitter late on Monday.