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Belarusian skier Darya Dolidovich leaves country following ban for political views

Belarusian cross-country skier Darya Dolidovich poses in this handout picture taken in Kirovsk, Russia, November, 2021. Picture taken in November, 2021. Courtesy of Sergei Dolidovich/Handout via REUTERS

According to her and her father, a Belarusian cross-country skier has fled the country with her family due to worries of retaliation by authorities after she was excluded from competition due to the family’s political views.

The news: Darya Dolidovich and her family have arrived in Poland, where she wants to continue training, according to Sergei Dolidovich, a seven-time Olympic cross-country skier who also trains Darya, in a video call with his daughter on Tuesday.

  • Darya, 17, was prevented from competing for what Sergei and his daughter believe was his involvement in street protests against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election in 2020, which opponents claimed was illegitimate. Lukashenko has disputed that the vote was rigged.
  • “Darya has been stripped of her right to take part in competitions,” he said. “I don’t see the possibility of her continuing her career in Belarus.”
  • “We could be accused of staging a demonstration and shouting (opposition) slogans, then just be sent to prison,” he said.
  • “Three months ago, I couldn’t have imagined, even in a nightmare, that I would end up leaving my country.”
  • The Dolidovich family’s departure comes only days before the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics, where the Belarusian national team is under fire after sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya defected at the Tokyo Games last year.
Belarusian cross-country skier Darya Dolidovich poses in this handout picture taken in Kirovsk, Russia, November, 2021. Picture taken in November, 2021. Courtesy of Sergei Dolidovich/Handout via REUTERS

What’s going on: Darya, one of the country’s most talented junior cross-country skiers, stated last month that her FIS code, an individual identifying number essential for competitors to compete in International Ski Federation competitions, had been deactivated by the Belarus Ski Union (FIS).

  • According to a January 31 letter, the Belarus Ski Union informed Dolidovich’s coaching team that her FIS code had been deactivated in December in response to a decision by the Belarus Cross-Country Skiing Federation. The decision was made without explanation in the letter.
  • The FIS said it has not heard back from Belarusian ski officials since asking more information last month on the deactivation of Darya Dolidovich’s FIS code.
  • Requests for comment were not returned by the Belarus Cross-Country Skiing Federation or the Belarus Ski Union.
  • Darya Dolidovich was due to finish high school this year, but it’s uncertain how she’ll continue her education in Poland.
  • Dolidovich was determined to keep skiing in the hopes of achieving her Olympic goal.

What happened: For expressing opposition views and participating in protests over Lukashenko’s re-election in 2020, some elite Belarusian athletes have been imprisoned or banned off national teams.

  • The international community has condemned the repression of Belarusian athletes, particularly the effort to forcibly deport Tsimanouskaya during the Tokyo Olympics.
  • The United States slapped visa restrictions on many Belarusian nationals last week, citing Tsimanouskaya’s case and other cases of extraterritorial counter-dissident action.
  • Sviatlana Andryiuk, a Belarusian cross-country skier, was also stripped of her FIS code, preventing her from competing in a qualifying event that may have earned her a spot in the Beijing Olympics.

Andryiuk, who said that she had been accused of sympathising with the opposition, described her political beliefs as “neutral.”

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