The Belarus Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF), led by 3x Olympic swimming medalist Aliaksandra Herasimenia, has officially requested that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspend the National Olympic Committee of the Republic of Belarus (NOCRB) for Olympic charter breaches amid violent protests in the country.
BSSF sent the letter after months of protests across the country of Belarus following the election of re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko in August. According to multiple reports, Lukashenko has been accused of election fraud, opposition members had either “been jailed or gone into exile”, and protesters of his victory were beaten by law enforcement.
Following protests throughout the month of August, over 250 Belarusian athletes wrote an open letter to the government demanding that they:
- Deem the election on August 9 invalid due to fraud and have a re-election that is “held in accordance with all international standards, as well as the resignation of the current composition of the CEC with bringing to responsibility stipulated by the legislation”.
- Release all citizens detained during the protests who were not involved in illegal activities.
- Free and rehabilitate all political prisoners.
- Stop illegal activities of law enforcement officers and carry out checks on the legality of their actions.
- Identify and punish those responsible for the beatings and abuse of citizens, and have all guilty security members resign.
- Provide full-fledged medical, psychological, legal and material assistance to all victims of illegal actions
With the letter, the athletes also threatened to renounce their Belarusian national team status if their demands are not met. The Belarusian government has not offered any comment on the letter or the recent formation of the Free Association of Athletes of Belarus.
Several active and retired Belarusian coaches and swimmers signed the letter in addition to Herasimenia, including Anton Latkin, Elena Klimova, Pavel Sitenkov, Pavel Chaikov and Zakhar Zakrevsk.
After the letter was formally sent, the athletes formed the Belarus Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) to unify in their response to the violence.
Now, the athletes involved in the foundation are claiming that the NOCRB, headed by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, has been “encouraging continuous violence and turning its blind eye to the ongoing multiple cases of discrimination and violence”.
In a response to the letter, the IOC held a virtual executive board meeting, releasing a statement saying that it, “has again expressed its serious concern with regard to the overall situation of the sporting community in Belarus.”
As a result of the meeting, the executive board has decided that it “will continue to monitor the situation of Belarusian athletes in advance of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, and remains open to receiving any further information relating to athlete discrimination on the grounds of political views if these athletes are under the authority of the NOC”, the statement added.
Many athletes have left the country to live and train elsewhere due to the fact that high profile athletes were being arrested for voicing their opposition to the Belarusian government.
For that reason, Herasimenia is currently living in Lithuania, where she is organizing programs to help displaced athletes continue to train.
At the 2012 Olympic Games, Herasimenia won two silver medals, swimming the 50m and 100m freestyle events. She later won a bronze medal in the 50m freestyle at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.