Athletes were among the first Belarusians to oppose Lukashenka in August 2020. They even created a letter for fair elections, signed by members of the Belarusian national team and Olympic champions, coaches, former athletes, and sports officials. Lukashenka, who loves sports, started repressions against them. Our new material is about women athletes deprived of work, the opportunity to compete and even live in their home country due to their position.
On August 18, 2020, the 2019 world freestyle champion Alexandra Romanovskaya signed an open letter from the athletes demanding that the authorities stop the violence and hold a repeat presidential election. After that, repressions began against the athlete. In October 2020, she was fired from the national team for alleged absenteeism – although that day, she took her father to the hospital for rehabilitation after a stroke. In November 2020, Alexandra auctioned the 2019 Universiade gold medal for $ 15,000. She sent the money to the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Fund. Alexandra Romanovskaya remained in Belarus and continued training. On November 10, 2021, after a training session, Aleksandra Romanovskaya was detained, after which she spent the night in an isolation ward. She got charged under Article 24.23, Clause 1 of the Administrative Code (violation of the established procedure for holding a mass event). Her mother said it could have happened because of the sticker with «Pahonia». Alexandra got fined $ 1,050.
Another athlete who supported the Belarusian people was the runner Svetlana Kudelich, the 2nd IAAF Continental Cup in 2014 winner. After she signed the letter for fair elections, she got fired from her position in the Ministry of Emergencies, where she held the rank of lieutenant in the internal service and worked as a training and sports inspector. After that, she got kicked out of the national team. The contract with her coach and husband, Igor Zhavoronok, was not renewed. However, the Sports Solidarity Fund raised money to prepare Svetlana for the Olympic Games in Tokyo – however, the athlete did not perform there, but for a great reason. In September 2021, the runner became a mom.
Alexandra Gerasimenia, winner of the 2016 Olympic Games bronze medal in 50m freestyle, also signed the letter for fair elections. Due to her political position, her swimming club was closed, with which they stopped concluding lease agreements. The organization got liquidated in 2021. In October 2020, Alexandra became the head of the Sports Solidarity Fund, but the repression did not stop. The security forces came to search her father cottage, and in March 2021, they wanted to take away a house on a site in Drozdy. On April 2, 2021, a criminal case got opened against Aleksandra Gerasimenu for calls to commit actions aimed at causing harm to the national security of Belarus (Article 361 of the Criminal Code). After that, Alexandra put up her gold medal from the 2012 World Cup at auction. She transferred the proceeds from the sale to the Belarusian Sports Solidarity Fund. Because of the criminal case, her portrait got removed from the honour roll at the university, which Alexandra Gerasimenya graduated. In the fall of 2021, as part of the Sports Solidarity Fund campaign to raise funds to file a claim by 9 Belarusian applicants against the Belarusian Football Federation and UEFA in the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Alexandra put up for auction three medals from the Olympic Games.
Marathon runner Olga Mazurenok also signed a letter in support of fair elections. After that, the attitude of the authorities towards Olga completely changed. She got not renewed for the presidential scholarship, she got seconded from the Ministry of Sports, and she does not have the funds to carry out the necessary overseas training camp. Note that Olga supported the current government, but her position changed after protests on the streets in August 2020. «I was especially impressed by the situation with an underage boy who was going on a fishing trip, but he was detained, beaten, gouged out of his eyes. Firstly, he is still a minor, and secondly, they did not give him a hand on the ass, but they did everything in such a sophisticated form. And it killed me on the spot when comrade Karanik said that this guy at the clinic had psychotropic poisoning,» the athlete recalled. At a meeting of athletes with the participation of the Minister of Sports Sergei Kovalchuk, where he called the footage with crippled people a fake, Olga said that she did not believe him. And in one of her interviews, she called state television one-sided. After such harsh statements, Olga got dismissed from the Armed Forces. The Sports Solidarity Fund helped raise money to train the runner for the Tokyo Olympics. Olga Mazurenok performed at the marathon in Tokyo and brought Belarus fifth place, becoming the best among European participants.
On September 30, 2020, Elena Levchenko, the national basketball team member, got taken into custody at the airport. The basketball player got accused of disorderly conduct and participation in mass events in Belarus. She did take part in several Sunday protests, and she also signed a letter for fair elections. After the arrest, Elena spent 15 days in the temporary detention centre, and then she was detained for another 72 hours. When she was released, the basketball player shared that she slept on metal beams in custody, without a mattress and bed linen, and caught lice in the cell. She did not have the opportunity to take a shower, there was no hot water in the cell, and the drain did not work in the toilet. After staying at Akrestsin Street, her vertebral hernias worsened. She had to spend a long time in rehabilitation. Elena is now in Greece, where she plays for the local basketball team.
On October 29, 2020, the chairman of the Chess Federation of Belarus and vice-president of the International Chess Federation, Anastasia Sorokina, stopped communicating. It turned out that the security forces took her straight from home and held her in the police office for seven hours. During the search, her phone and flashcard got seized. On that day, daughter Anastasia had a birthday – fortunately, the woman got released to the evening celebration. Anastasia Sorokina also signed the letter for the new presidential elections and against violence. After that, sports officials told her to resign and close Chess Academy.
In May 2021, Anastasia left the head of the Chess Federation of Belarus post. But no one got appointed to her place, so de jure she remains in this position. And in November 2021, the account of the FIDE chess school was arrested. Anastasia Sorokina is outside Belarus.
In January 2021, biathlete Anna Sola remained the only member of the national team who did not sign a letter in support of Lukashenka. «I have something to say thank you to the country, but first of all, I would like sports to remain out of politics. It was hard to concentrate on sports results reading sad news from Belarus. Therefore, my position is not even political – for peace, observance of laws and the solution of any issues without the use of violence,» the athlete explained, which caused respect not only among biathlon fans but also among ordinary Belarusians. Anna Sola continues to play for the national team of Belarus and does it very successfully. At the fifth stage of the World Cup, the biathlete brought second place in the sprint and the second in the mixed relay to the country treasury.
On March 5, 2021, the 2007 world shot put champion Nadezhda Ostapchuk put up for auction the gold medal of the 2005 European Championship in Madrid. She admitted that in this way, she wants to support the Belarusian athletes who suffered for the expression of their civic position. Nadezhda criticized the actions of the authorities even before the 2020 elections. For example, in May 2020, she spoke out against the Victory Day parade: «The veterans would not be offended if the parade got postponed or cancelled altogether. In my opinion, the money would be better spent on veterans. You would have made some payments.» And in August 2020, in an interview with the Life-Raspberry YouTube channel, Nadezhda said: «The country should also give you something so that you have patriotism towards it. If you get constantly bullied and persecuted in the country, how can you be a patriot? It is already Stockholm syndrome». After the elections, she signed a letter from the athletes against the illegitimate government. Nadezhda transferred the money from the sale (over 11 thousand dollars) to the Sports Solidarity Fund.
On May 24, 2021, the Dynamo Brest football player Viktoria Sidorchuk turned her back before the game with the Neman club while singing the anthem of Belarus. Thus, Victoria protested against the hijacking of the Ryanair plane and the arrest of Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega. On June 6, it became known that the football player left the club – she was dismissed from the team. And this even though Viktoria spent 90 minutes on the field in each match of Brest players. Viktoria got expelled from the graduation course of the Faculty of Physical Education of Brest State University. She did not get marks for the exams that she passed. The dean of the faculty explained that the reason was the tattoo on the neck.
On July 1, 2021, the contract of the Belarusian Muay Thai champion, Anastasia Kalashnikova, was not renewed. She worked as a paramedic at the 6th ambulance substation. In January 2021, the girl got detained near the Pushkinskaya metro station. Here, she walked past people who put up lamps at the site of Alexander Taraikovsky’s death. The athlete received a fine of 870 rubles. In addition, Anastasia Kalashnikova published posts on Instagram where she expressed her civic position. After the repressions, Anastasia left Belarus.
On July 30, 2021, short-distance runner Kristina Tsimanouskaya learned that she got announced as a participant in the 4×400 m relay at the Tokyo Olympics. In this discipline, the girl never ran. Other athletes were supposed to participate, but they were not allowed to compete due to the lack of a sufficient number of doping tests taken by the Belarusian Athletics Federation. Kristina spoke about this on social networks. After that, the team’s coaches and sports officials called her for a conversation. They began to exert psychological pressure and persuade her to go home before competing in the 200 meters race on August 2. When they tried to take Kristina out of Japan, she returned to the Japanese police and the international community for help. Since August 2021, Kristina lives in Poland and plans to obtain Polish sports citizenship. In December 2021, she released a limited edition clothing collection dedicated to the events of the Tokyo Olympics.
In September 2021, the Belarusian horsewoman Olga Safronova, who signed a letter for fair elections, left the country. She spoke out in support of changes in Belarus, spoke positively about Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. Sports officials did not want to renew her contract because photos with a white-red-white flag were on her social networks, and she refused to remove them. Olga also refused to sign the appeal in support of Lukashenka. But they could not find a replacement for her, and later, the agreement got extended. Olga was a member of the Belarusian national team at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, but before the Olympics, she learned that she would not play. One of her horses got suspected of doping. The athlete conducted tests in Poland, and they did not confirm the presence of prohibited substances in the animal’s blood. Olga asked the Polish authorities to provide her with a humanitarian visa. A little later, her three horses arrived in Poland. Olga Safronova intends to continue her sports career in Poland.
On January 11, 2022, skiers Daria Dolidovich and Svetlana Andreyuk were suspended from the rival due to suspicions of supporting the opposition. The Belarusian Ski Union has deactivated the identification numbers required for participation in the competition. And its head, Alexander Dorokhovich, ordered to ban them from participating in national training camps and international competitions. As a result, both girls will participate in the qualifying events ahead of the Beijing Olympics. Daria and Svetlana are pupils of the seven-time Olympic participant Sergei Dolidovich, who took part in the protests against the regime of Alexander Lukashenko.
While repressions are going on in the state, Lukashenka can not hope for success in sports. And very soon, the Winter Olympics in Beijing will begin – and we do not know whether the same precedent will happen there as with Kristina Tsimanouskaya. We do not know if the Belarusian national team will decrease due to the lack of doping tests or disagreement with the authorities. We cannot be sure that athletes will not get punished for the lack of medals – this time already seriously. Real sport and victories will return to Belarus only after Lukashenka leaves.