EXCLUSIVE Belarusian skier flees country after ban for political opinions


BEIJING, Feb 9 (Reuters) – A Belarusian cross-country skier has fled the country with her family amid fears of reprisals from the authorities after she was barred from competing over the family’s political views, she and her father said. .

Darya Dolidovich and her family are now in Poland, where she hopes to continue training, Sergei Dolidovich, a seven-time Olympian cross-country skier who also coaches Darya, told Reuters in a video call interview with his daughter on Tuesday.

Reuters reported last month that 17-year-old Darya was barred from running for what Sergei and his daughter believe was his participation in street protests against the 2020 re-election of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, which opponents characterized as fraudulent. Lukashenko denied rigging the vote. Read more

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“Darya was deprived of her right to participate in competitions,” he said. “I don’t see the possibility of her continuing her career in Belarus.”

“We could be charged with staging a protest and shouting (opposition) slogans and then just sent to jail,” he said.

“Three months ago, I could not have imagined, even in a nightmare, that I would end up leaving my country.”

The departure of the Dolidovich family comes days after the Beijing Winter Olympics, where the Belarusian national team is under scrutiny following the defection of sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya at the Tokyo Games last year. Read more

Darya, one of the country’s most promising junior cross-country skiers, said last month that the Belarusian Ski Union had deactivated her FIS code, an individual identification number required for athletes to compete. organized by the International Ski Federation (FIS).

The Belarusian Ski Union told Dolidovich’s coaching staff that it deactivated its FIS code in December in response to a decision by the Belarusian Cross-Country Skiing Federation, according to a January 31 letter reviewed by Reuters. . The letter does not specify why this decision was made.

In response to questions from Reuters, the FIS said it had not heard from Belarusian skiing officials since requesting additional information last month about Darya Dolidovich’s FIS code deactivation.

The Belarusian Cross-Country Federation and the Belarusian Ski Union did not respond to requests for comment.

UNCERTAINTY AHEAD

Darya Dolidovich was due to graduate from high school this year, but it’s unclear how she will continue her studies in Poland.

“I had planned to finish my studies in Belarus, but my parents said we were going to move,” she said. “I’m upset, of course. It would have been easier to stay a few months and finish school.”

Dolidovich said she wants to continue skiing in hopes of keeping her Olympic dream alive.

Several elite Belarusian athletes have been jailed or expelled from national teams for expressing oppositional views and joining protests that erupted in 2020 against Lukashenko’s re-election.

The crackdown on Belarusian athletes, including the attempted forced repatriation of Tsimanouskaya during the Tokyo Olympics, has drawn international condemnation.

Last week, the United States announced it was imposing visa restrictions on several Belarusian nationals, citing the Tsimanouskaya case and other examples of what it called extraterritorial counter-dissent activity.

Another Belarusian cross-country skier, Sviatlana Andryiuk, was also stripped of her FIS code, a decision which prevented her from participating in a qualifying event which could have earned her a place at the Beijing Olympics.

Andryiuk, who told Reuters last month she had been accused of being an opposition supporter, described her political views as neutral.

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Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Christian Schmollinger

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