EXCLUSIVE Belarusian skiers blame politics after being barred from competition

Belarusian skaters Daria Dolidovich and Svyatlana Andriuk pose for a photo in Kirovo-Chepetsk, Russia, December 5, 2021. Photo taken December 5, 2021. Courtesy of Sergei Dolidovich / Posted via Reuters

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  • Cross-country skaters say they are banned from competing
  • The Ski Federation of Belarus has not commented on the cases of skaters
  • Some athletes have been jailed after 2020 anti-protests

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Two Belarusian snowboarders, one of whom had hoped to compete in the Beijing Winter Olympics next month, said they were banned from competing after sports officials accused them of supporting the country’s political opposition.

The two skaters, Svyatlana Andriuk and Daria Dolidovich, are the latest elite athletes to be targeted since a crackdown on critics of veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko after the 2020 presidential election that his opponents say was rigged. Lukashenko denied tampering with the vote.

Skaters said that last month the Belarus Ski Federation deactivated the FIS code, an individual identification number required for athletes to participate in competitions supervised by the International Ski Federation (FIS). They were excluded from official competitions, including qualifications for major international events.

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Skiers say the head of the Belarusian Cross Country Skiing Federation, Aleksandr Darakhovich, ordered officials in November to bar them from competing internationally and participating in national training camps.

The federation did not respond to a request for comment directed at Darakhovich, who is also the deputy head of the Minsk City Executive Committee.

The Ski Federation of Belarus and the Islamic Salvation Front did not immediately respond to Reuters email requests for comment on the two cases.

Andriuk, 22, says the decision forced her to miss a qualifying event that could have allowed her to secure a place at the Beijing Olympics.

“They (sports officials) accused me, word by word, of being a supporter of the opposition,” Andriuk, who lost her government job due to the accusations, told Reuters in a video call.

Andriuk said she has not publicly expressed her political views, which she described as impartial. She said that her situation was forcing her to leave Belarus.

“I don’t want to be here,” she said. “I plan to leave for Poland because it is impossible to live here.”

2020 protests

Daria Dolidovich, 17, is one of the most promising cross-country skiers in Belarus. She is also the daughter of cross country skier Sergei Dolidovich, a seven-time Olympian who took part in street protests and spoke out against Lukashenko.

Daria Dolidovich also told Reuters during a video call that she believed her father’s political views were behind the move.

“I have not done anything myself that would justify my disqualification and deactivate the FIS code,” she told Reuters, adding that she shared her father’s views.

Sergei Dolidovich, who coaches his daughter, said he quit his job at a national training center after being pressured into supporting the opponent.

“The state can no longer influence me,” he said. “This can only be done through my daughter.”

Several prominent Belarusian sports figures joined opposition protests in 2020, an unusual move in a country where the state heavily supports athletes.

Some athletes have been imprisoned. Others lost their government jobs or were expelled from the national teams.

At last year’s Tokyo Olympics, Belarusian sprinter Kristina Tsimanoskaya refused to board a plane home when she was taken out of the Games against her will after a public complaint from national team coaches. She fled to Poland, saying she feared for her safety if she returned to Belarus. Read more

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(Reporting by Gabriel Tetro-Farber; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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