The unfortunate case of the Belarusian athlete Krystsina Tsimanouskaya who denounced last Sunday that the Government of Alexander Lukashenko forced her to leave Japan against her will reminds us that sport has been a powerful escape route for many athletes living under harsh dictatorships. After being eliminated from the 2020 Olympic Games, the 24-year-old sprinter criticized her athletics team and the Belarusian Olympic Committee, chaired by Viktor Lukashenko, son of the dictator, on social media. Faced with the commotion in the Olympic Village, Poland welcomed her into its Embassy and granted her a visa with which she could travel to the country, which has already offered her political asylum.
The young woman boarded a flight to the city of Vienna this morning to continue her trip to Warsaw, the final destination where she will meet her husband who fled to Ukraine. Tsimanouskaya was one of more than 2,000 sports figures from Belarus who signed an open letter calling for new elections and the release of political prisoners.
But Tsimanouskaya was not the only one. In these Olympic Games, the Venezuelan Eldric Sella, who participated in the Olympic Team of Refugee Athletes, denied entry to Trinidad and Tobago, country where he resided since 2018 due to having an expired passport. Now, process your political asylum in Canada. “I notify that we have formally requested (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) UNHCR to activate humanitarian resettlement protocols so that our compatriot the Olympic boxer Eldric Sella (24 years old) is received in Canada”, reported in this way the Venezuelan opponent Orlando Viera-Blanco, Juan Guaidó’s ambassador to the North American country.
During the JJ. OO. from Atlanta, is the United States, in 1996, three Cuban athletes defected from the delegation, which entered the competition with 170 athletes. Two boxers and the baseball player, Rolando Arrojo, fled the dictatorship of Fidel Castro and they asked for asylum in the US Castro, in response, accused the United States of trying to demoralize his team. “Throughout the Revolution we have had Judas in all sectors, and among them in the athletic sector, which is where the people hurt the most,” said Fidel Castro after hearing the news.
A similar situation was experienced in 2007, when three Cuban athletes attended the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro and ended up seeking political asylum. In 2012, five Cuban basketball players took advantage of a tournament in Puerto Rico to ask for asylum at the US embassy According to the portal El Observador de Uruguay, “the country that has had the most defending athletes in recent years” is Cuba. During the Toronto Pan American Games (2015), at least 28 athletes were reported who did the same.
After his participation in the Olympics in Montreal in 1976, his fame and worldwide recognition made him Romanian ex-gymnast, Nadia Comaneci, consecrated with the “perfect 10”, she considered fleeing the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, who on his return used her as a political instrument. But it wasn’t until November 1989 that he fled Romania across the border to Hungary, continued to Austria, and ended up applying for political asylum in the United States. The admiration that aroused served as propaganda of the communist regime, from which he suffered a harsh sentence in the form of a strict control.
According to Deutsche Welle, the first desertion case occurred in the London Olympics 1948. Then, the coach of the Czechoslovak women’s gymnastics team refused to return to her country, accusing that there was no freedom there after it became a satellite of the then Soviet Union. Then, in 1956, at the Melbourne Olympics, almost half of the Hungarian team – made up of 100 people – defected after the Soviets crushed demonstrations in the country.
Along the same lines, at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, “five members of the Afghan delegation defected” after the USSR invaded their country.
The New York Times recalls some figures: at the London 2012 Olympic Games, “82 athletes and officials” applied to the UK for asylum. Similarly, taking advantage of the 2014 Brazil Soccer World Cup, 200 people from Ghana asked for refuge.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism