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Krystsina Tsimanouskaya at the airport in Tokyo on August 1, 2021

‘That’s how suicide cases end up’ Belarusian sports officials caught on tape trying to pressure sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya into quitting Tokyo Olympics after she criticized them publicly. Full transcript.

Source: Meduza
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya at the airport in Tokyo on August 1, 2021
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya at the airport in Tokyo on August 1, 2021
Issei Kato / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

A year after protests swept Belarus and nearly forced long-time ruler Alexander Lukashenko from office, the nation’s politics has followed Belarusian athletes to Tokyo. On August 1, Krystsina Tsimanouskaya appealed directly to the Japanese police at Haneda Airport and asked for help from the International Olympic Committee, saying that she was being forced suddenly onto a flight bound for Minsk. The 24-year-old sprinter says the pressure started after she criticized Belarusian sports officials for deciding without her knowledge that she would run a relay race for which she hadn’t trained, in order to fill in for a disqualified team member. In a message shared on social media, Tsimanouskaya said she now fears criminal prosecution if she returns to Belarus. International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams later told journalists that Tsimanouskaya is being protected by the Japanese authorities. The U.N. refugee agency is reportedly involved in her case, and both the Czech Republic and Poland say they are ready to offer the Belarusian Olympian a visa. According to the BBC, Tsimanouskaya is now considering seeking asylum in Europe.

Hours after the dramatic events at Tokyo’s airport, the anonymous Telegram channel “Nick and Mike” published an audio recording on YouTube that allegedly captures an exchange between Tsimanouskaya and two Belarusian sports officials: national team head coach Yuri Moisevich and Belarusian Republican Track and Field Training Center deputy director Artur Shumak. About 19 minutes long, the tape is clearly part of a conversation where the two men drive Tsimanouskaya to tears, trying to persuade her to drop out of the Olympics and leave Tokyo immediately. Meduza presents a translation of this recording (with a few minor redactions).

Tsimanouskaya is driven to tears: Two officials intimidate her and ask her to leave the Olympics
Nick and Mike

Artur Shumak: A situation has come up that needs to be resolved somehow because there’s no other way that works here. The following instructions have come in: You’re flying home today. Just let me finish and don’t rush to any conclusions. You’ve been asked something big: You come home, you don’t write anything anywhere, and you don’t make any statements. I’ll give it to you, word for word, just what they told me, so it doesn’t happen later…

If you want to compete again for the Republic of Belarus, then listen to what they’re recommending for you: get back, come home, go to your parents or wherever you like. Just drop all this. Otherwise, the more you act out… You know how a fly just gets itself more entangled, the more it struggles after it lands in a web? That’s how life works. We do stupid things. You did a stupid thing. I hope you understand this.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya: Tell me: Do you think you did nothing here?

Shumak: I didn’t do anything.

Tsimanouskaya: Meaning, there was no need to inform me?

Shumak: I’ll explain it to you again. You’re here representing the team of the Republic of Belarus. It’s not your fault [that the relay runners were suspended], but you are to blame for the allegations and statements you made. You need to get it through your head that you’re accusing people across the whole country without even understanding the what and how of it. Do you know what your stupidity could do here? People could lose their jobs. People with families. Through your stupidity, you could end up destroying people’s lives. But people will forgive you for this — that’s not the main thing here.

We want to help you, so this situation ends and goes away. Everyone makes mistakes in life. We didn’t notify you because nobody planned that you’d be running. Somebody was just winding you up, whoever sent you the [lineup sheet]. And you gave into these emotions. You should have waited until Mr. Moisevich or I could reach you. I was just physically incapable of contacting you — I don’t have mobile Internet across all of Japan. And you just rushed ahead. That was your mistake.

As they say, sometimes you just need to sleep on it. When tempers have cooled, people make sober decisions. When they give into emotional impulse, however, they do stupid things. We want to help you, so this situation quiets down and goes away. You understand perfectly well that you won’t be able to compete successfully in such an emotional state.

Tsimanouskaya: I won the [2019] Universiade when I was in such a state.

Shumak: You weren’t. Right now, the situation is out of control.

Yuri Moisevich: It’s totally out of control, you see. To calm things down, you just need to stop talking. You need to get off the air. Otherwise, you’ll just make things worse. Things will go against you and against the national team. I’m sorry to tell you this, but many people will remember you unkindly.

Shumak: Mr. Moisevich is 60 and I’m near 60 myself. I’ve made my share of mistakes, too. I may have thought I was right at the time, but I look back on these things very differently today. When enough time passes, we can actually make sense of our actions. We’re all hot-blooded when we’re young. I was the same — believe me. And I paid for it dearly. I spent years being offended by people. Today, I’d like to say thanks to these people who showed me tough love. That’s why I understand you so well. Nobody’s going to judge you or execute you or whatever. We want to help you get out of this situation. The best medicine is time.

Moisevich: And some peace and quiet.

Shumak: Some advice from someone who sincerely wants to help you: drop this. Don’t throw more fuel on the fire and it will go out. If you do, it will burn bigger and bigger. You’ll get burned, and you won’t be the only one.

Moisevich: It’s like a sore: You won’t let it heal, always picking at it. Just leave it be. Embrace the illness and it will release you. And don’t be mad that you had to… These are wise things. After all, people have been reaching these wise conclusions for thousands of years — for millennia. For centuries, they’ve been taking notes and talking it over.

Shumak: I know you think that somebody here wishes you ill or wants revenge, or that there’s a political game unfolding here. That’s total nonsense. Krystsina, if you trust anyone, remember my words.

Moisevich: I need to get going, Krystsina. I have to report in. And, as it happens, you need to give me $350 because I have to account for that money. That was the per diem that you’re not getting.

Shumak: Honestly, Krystsina, you just don’t get the seriousness of what’s happening. You’re all young and just stupid — no offense. I’m telling you straight. And I understand perfectly what’s going through your head. You’re thinking, “You’re talking to me now out of your asses, and I’m smarter than all of you.” [Shumak and Moisevich try to count out the per diem cash.]

Moisevich: Krystsina, $150. Give it to me. If it’s off, I’ll return it to you. Do you hear me? Krystsina, I’m running late.

Tsimanouskaya: Yes, you’ve both covered your own asses beautifully.

Moisevich: I have to report in. Give me the $150.

Tsimanouskaya: Mmhmm. $150 makes absolutely no difference to me.

Moisevich: It’s not my money. Don’t you understand? I’m in my 60s — I don’t scare anymore, but one of these tin soldiers will show up and say, “Sir, yes, sir! Awaiting orders!” And he’ll purge the national team so bad that there’ll be nothing left of us. Then you’ll go down in history — they’ll say it all started with Tsimanouskaya. She started this whole mess, and then they changed the leadership to put things in order. Get it? Well, will you listen to me for the last time? Will you do what I’m asking?

Tsimanouskaya: I think this won’t end well for me.

Moisevich: And how does it end well for you if you stay [in Japan]?

Tsimanouskaya: It ends the same, either way.

Moisevich: Krystsina, no. Believe me, no. Did you hear what the minister said? Well, he told me afterward. It’ll be insubordination. I’m not the only one who’s suspended today — so is [Belarusian National Olympic Committee] vice president [Dmitry] Dovgalenok. I’m telling you: Do you want to go down in history? And he also wants this to go to the end [of the Olympics], but it’s no longer possible when things have spiraled as badly as this. He asked me to have a heart-to-heart talk with you. I still think that maybe the minister… But it doesn’t all depend on him anymore, unfortunately. 

What you said is out there now. As the people say, “A spoken word takes its flight.” This is folk wisdom, pieced together over the millennia. Things will calm down. The brass will calm down. Things will move on, God willing, there will be medals, and it will all be forgotten. If you stay here, against [their] will, understand that it will lead to nothing good. Because it will be seen today as a precedent that interferes with the team’s future. It’s a precedent.

Can’t you do this for the team’s sake? For us? By this point, going and running the 200-meter dash won’t do anything for you — it does nothing for you. This isn’t the kind of situation where you can go off and prove otherwise. Things have already turned on us. All we can do now is follow the path before us. We have to go with how it needs to be.

Krystsina, listen to me. You’re going to put your foot in your mouth all over again because this really has gone very far. It’s affecting every sport now. I’m here today, I came up here — they don’t know I’m here — and the representatives of whatever team are around and they’re all over this. I really didn’t want to tell you. All I heard was: “I can’t fuckin’ believe she’s saying these things!” Do you get it? This has gone far — it’s gone too far. We’re way out there now. Things were tense, there were no medals, but today we got salvation: a medal and then another one. That eased things a bit. It offset everything. But you have to do this, Krystsina.

I’m just asking you to understand and accept this. The Orthodox [Christian] faith tells us to be humble. Humility makes a person. Get over this. Put aside your pride. Your pride will tell you, “Don’t do it. You’ve got to be kidding,” and it will start pulling you into the Devil’s vortex and twisting you. That’s how suicide cases end up, unfortunately. The Devil grabs them and says, “You have to prove it to somebody, so jump from a balcony. Oh, how they’ll tear out their hair and later lament that they drove you to it.” And you know what’s the funniest thing? The people will say, “Well, that idiot could have lived. She didn’t prove anything to anyone.”

So let me go and finish this. We’ll say you’re injured and get out of this, and you’ll head home without any drama. I give you my word, Krystsina, that everything will be okay for you, do you hear me? I swear on my own children. We’ll make up for this incident. That’s what everyone wants now, do you understand? You have to let it go. To be saved, you see, you have to drop the rest of it. Calm down and everything will be okay — I promise you.

I’m not scared for my own ass but for the team and for the entire situation here. You just have no idea — I’m not even telling you everything. You know what, it’s best if you just take a seat and leave. It’ll all be quiet: you’ll get a ticket and tomorrow you’ll board the plane and leave. You’ll forget and be distracted for a while. You simply can’t stay any longer in a moral environment like this, you know? You just can’t stay. You won’t prove anything to anybody, not to yourself or anyone else. You’ll just aggravate the situation.

Just leave this thing alone now. Talk it over with your husband and your family, but don’t tell them everything, either. You’re a strong person, you know, and a person’s strength is knowing when to retreat. Do you know why we beat the French in 1812? Because there was a wise leader named Kutuzov, there was the Battle of Borodino, and it didn’t end in anything. The two sides met, smacked each other around, and then they retreated. And what does Kutuzov do? Kutuzov says, “We must surrender Moscow.” Do you know what an uproar there was? “Are you out of your mind? Give up Moscow? To the French?” And he says, “We have to give it up. Fall back.” And the Russian troops withdrew from Moscow. True, they burned Moscow. Can you imagine that they burned Moscow? The city was made entirely of wood, back then. And do you know why [we] beat Napoleon? Because Napoleon came with his troops to Moscow, they pillaged, they filled their bellies, they looted all the churches, and before long it wasn’t warriors doing the plundering. Now each man was thinking about how to get all his treasure home, but do you know what the way back was like? And later Kutuzov went down in history as the man who wisely defeated the French.

So when there’s a situation like this, it’s like in judo — you use your opponent’s own strength. He rushes at you, you step back, and he’s knocked down by his own force. This is a situation where you need to act wisely, and I’m asking you to listen to me.

You see, it was even good that you… It was good that you apologized to the minister. From today, he’ll be fighting for us. Whatever happens, he’ll say, “She’s alright — she called and apologized.” You did such a great job there! But that was just the first step and now you need to make the second that’s being asked. They’re asking you. We’re not threatening you or ordering you. And we’re not trying to scare you; we’re just asking you to listen to us.

Dovgalenok is waiting there. His whole heart is with the athletes and with you, but he understands that nothing more can be done now. This has to happen, do you understand? You need to do the right thing.

We’ll quietly inform the organizing committee that you’ve been injured, we’ll sort it out, and you’ll leave quietly. Once you’re back… I promise you that you’ll remain in track and field.

Tsimanouskaya: I don’t believe that.

Moisevich: Krystsina, you know, the other way is even worse. Believe me, the other way is worse. Today, we need to smooth things over and remove this unpleasantness, you know? If we don’t listen and leave it in place, then we’re left with no escape routes at all. You know what they say: With gangrene, you cut off half the leg, otherwise you lose the whole body. Yes, losing a leg is rotten, but you die if you keep it.

You’re a smart girl. You understand all this. Honestly, I feel for you. Krystsina, I feel for you more than you know. And I feel so sorry for you, too. And I know what’s going on inside your head. But believe me when I say that I’m not saving my own ass or anybody else’s. I’m just… It’s just that I’m already in my 60s. There’s a lot that I’ve come to understand, you know? We won’t prove anything. Now that we’ve been asked to do it this way, we should obey and do as we’re told, do you understand? We need to comply and do as we’re told.

Go ahead, you can cry a little more here. I’m going to tell Dovgalenok that everything is fine, and that we’ve agreed to this decision.

Tsimanouskaya: I didn’t say that I’ve agreed.

Moisevich: Well, how much do you need to think? We’re out of time.

Tsimanouskaya: Do you think I’ll want to continue with sports if I do all this now and return home? Even if you keep me on?

Moisevich: But why not? Hold on. Well, alright. Wait, you’re going to prove yourself further? What will you prove? To whom will you prove it? 

Tsimanouskaya: I’m not proving anything. I just want to run. What does that have to do with proving anything? 

Transcribed by Olga Korelina and Dmitry Kartsev

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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