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  • Belarusian Athletes Seek Assistance from IOC


    (ATR) A Belarusian athletes rights group is putting pressure on the International Olympic Committee to act on human rights violations, abuses, and detentions of athletes amid the current political turmoil in Belarus.

    Basketball player Yelena Leuchanka was jailed for protesting. (EU Athletes)
    The Belarusian Sports Solidarity Foundation sent an open letter this week to IOC president Thomas Bach detailing specific cases of athletes’ right violations and expressing concern about the human rights due diligence of the Olympic Movement. The letter adheres to the UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights.

    “We’ve been actively corresponding with the IOC and the IOC has promised to deal with the situation," said BSSF chief executive Aliaksandr Apeikin during a virtual press conference on Dec. 3.

    “There was a rally in Lausanne next to the IOC and the IOC ultimately met with the BSSF. They spoke for more than two hours about the situation in Belarus and with the athletes."

    The latest request for help by the BSSF follows the IOC having announced a formal procedure against the National Olympic Committee of Belarus on Nov. 25.

    “Later, we found that the IOC is deeply concerned with the situation in Belarus and is prepared to look into the matter very carefully,” Apeikin says, referring to the IOC’s Nov. 25 declaration.

    Widespread protests in Belarus began on August 9 after the disputed presidential election. (Wikipedia)
    Belarusian athletes have been part of widespread protests since the disputed August 9 presidential election, where Alexander Lukashenko supposedly won re-election with 80 percent of the vote.

    The European Union and the United States rejected the results of the election and refuse to recognize Lukashenko, who has been in power in Belarus for 26 years and is considered Europe's last dictator. 

    The letter sent to the IOC earlier this week consists of factual background on six cases of athletes’ rights infringements, legal reasoning and reference to unprecedented human rights violations in Belarus. The stated request was prepared and submitted with advisory support from the German Athletes Association.

    “Unfortunately, quite a number of athletes and others in sport have been repressed, some people were threatened and some athletes stated that they received unwanted home visits, they were threatened to be fired, even their families were threatened,” said three-time Belarusian Olympic swimming medalist Aliaksandra Herasimenia.

    Aliaksandra Herasimenia during the online press conference on Dec. 3.
    “There were ways sought by the authorities to try and punish us.

    “Some athletes were recalled from the national teams, they were brought to military units and this immediately meant they could not continue training.”

    According to the BSSF, of the six cases documented in the letter four involved Belarusian track and field athletes and two are judokas.

    “They lost access to the training facilities, they were deprived of funding and all kinds of pressure was put on them,” Apeikin added. “Two of them were kicked off of the national team. These are blatant violations of the Olympic Charter.”

    Beijing 2008 decathlon silver medalist Andrei Krauchanka was detained and sentenced without a lawyer to 10 days of administrative detention, subjected to physical and psychological violence in a temporary detention center, according to the BSSF.

    The letter sent to the IOC has also been addressed to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Ra'ad Zeid Al Hussein,

    “It is no secret to anyone that the most recent months in Belarus have been marked by very sad and horrible events,” said Belarus NOC Ethics Commission chairman Anatoli Kotau. “People are dying and unfortunately these innocent victims, most recently the death of Roman Bandarenka, top officials in sports have something to do with that and are implicated with that.”

    Belarusian Athletes in Tokyo

    The BSSF CEO also noted that ways and means are being explored in regards to Belarusian athletes potentially competing at the Tokyo Olympics independently of the Belarus NOC, should it be sanctioned by the IOC

    “The IOC is prepared to help with communication, with international sports associations to provide access to Belarusian athletes even bypassing the application of the National Olympic Committee of Belarus,” Apeikin said.

    “These negotiations will be moving on – there is complete understanding on the parts of international sport federations, the international sports community and the IOC.”

    Concerns Expressed to IIHF

    Minsk Arena is scheduled to co-host the Ice Hockey World Championship next year. (ATR)
    The Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation also submitted a request to the International Ice Hockey Federation on December 1 demanding disciplinary procedure against Belarusian Ice Hockey president and Belarus NOC executive committee member Dmitriy Baskov. According to public information and media investigations, Baskov was involved in the death of Roman Bandarenka, a 31-year-old Minsk resident, who was beaten to death by Belarusian police on Nov. 12.

    “He hides his face under a mask, but unfortunately for him there are many testimonies confirming many pieces of evidence that confirm Dmitry Baskov’s implication in the death of Raman Bandarenka,” Kotau said.

    Additionally it is alleged that Baskov took part in agitation actions using Olympic symbols in support of Belarus president Aleksander Lukashenko’s regime, defiantly drank alcohol in the country’s Olympic team uniform and exerted pressure on athletes and sports specialists who expressed their civic stance.

    Kotau and the BSSF are vehemently against the ice hockey world championships, which Belarus is scheduled to co-host with neighbor Latvia, proceeding under the regime of Lukashenko, who is also the president of the Belarus NOC.

    Belarus president Aleksander Lukashenko is also president of the country's NOC. (ATR)
    “There is no time for festivities or a sports holiday if people that declare that sports is beyond politics are involved in their capacity with violence against athletes,” Kotau said.

    “Most horribly, they are also implicated in the deaths of people, simply because those people are trying to stand up for their political rights.”

    Belarus NOC Letter

    The athletes’ rights foundation has also expressed deep concern about unethical actions and practices by the Belarusian sports authorities against athletes concerning a pro-regime letter of the sports community. Pressure and threats have been exerted on athletes, with those refusing to sign facing repression and consequences.

    “The way we see it, it is a spit on the face of the entire Belarusian society,” Apeikin said. “It is a spit on the face of other athletes who have suffered because of their political stance and have lost spots on the nation team because of their beliefs.”

    The political pro-regime letter initiated by the Belarus NOC and Ministry of Sport was sent to numerous sports organizations requesting for it to be published.

    Kotau said that while they haven’t spoken directly to Bach, online meetings are scheduled with IOC officials to further discuss the athletes situation.

    Written by Brian Pinelli

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