US athletes and their ‘oppression’ need to go to Belarus. They should be ashamed.
Belarusian Olympic sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya sought refuge in the European Union after team officials were offended by her criticism in a social media post. They tried to force her on a plane to Belarus where they said she would be punished.
Tsimanouskaya boarded a plane to Poland this week after they offered her refuge.
The authorities in the ex–Soviet nation have unleashed a relentless crackdown on dissent.
The seemingly crooked re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko led to months of protests.
Belarusian authorities responded with a massive clampdown that saw more than 35,000 people arrested and thousands beaten by police. Leading opposition figures have been jailed or forced to leave the country.
Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for 27 years, has denounced his opponents as foreign stooges and accused the U.S. and its allies of plotting to overthrow his government.
Dictators all use the same ruse.
Lukashenko has gone after journalists and an activist was recently found hanged.
Lukashenko is mopping up. He’s ridding the country of NGOs and shutting down the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the biggest and most respected media organization in the country.
Lukashenko has a keen interest in sports and served as the head of the Belarus National Olympic Committee for nearly a quarter–century before handing over the post to his older son in February. He sees sports as a reflection of him and his regime. He has sternly warned the country’s Olympic athletes that they better show high performance, the AP reported.
“If you go there like tourists and bring nothing back, you better not return to the country,” Lukashenko said.
Many Belarusian athletes have faced reprisals after speaking out against the authorities and voicing their support for protests, reports the AP.
Belarus basketball star Yelena Leuchanka, an ex–WNBA player, spent 15 days in jail in October after protesting peacefully against authorities. She later told the AP that prison conditions were awful, with no hot water and toilet in her cell and inmates forced to sleep on metal beds without mattresses.
Maria Shakuro, the captain of the Belarus national rugby team and bronze medalist of the European Beach Rugby Championships, also was sentenced to 10 days in jail for participating in a peaceful protest.
The legendary Olympic hammer thrower, Vadim Devyatovsky, was dismissed in September as the head of the country’s athletics federation after a Facebook post critical of Lukashenko.
And Natalya Petrakova, one of the most famous Belarussian handball players, was fired as the senior coach of the women’s handball national team after signing a letter of protest.
The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation said that a total of 124 athletes have served jail terms, faced dismissals or other repressive action.
“The horrible situation in the country is also reflected in sports,” said Vadim Krivosheyev, an activist with the sports foundation. “All the power of the repressive machine has been directed at athletes who dared to express their civic position. Sports in Belarus is facing quick degradation as only those athletes who are loyal (to the authorities) are allowed to perform.”
US athletes and their manufactured oppression are shameful, particularly in comparison to real repression.