Belarusian swimmer Alexandra Herasimenia is seeking to pool support in Vilnius for athletes who have been affected by Minsk's repressions, and also attract the international community's attention to the ongoing crackdown on athletes in Belarus.
The retired world champion and Olympic silver and bronze medal winner founded the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation in August. The fund's coordinator Alexander Apeikin told BNS that Herasimenia arrived in Vilnius last week and already met with representatives of several sports organisations, as well as the management of the Lithuanian National Olympic Committee.
“Our main task will be to provide financial, psychological, logistical and any other type of help to Belarusian athletes who have suffered at the hands of the regime. We would like to strengthen cooperation with international organisations and sports federations to ensure that the human rights situation in Belarus stays on the European and global agenda,” Herasimenia, who is leading the fund, was quoted as saying in a statement.
“My role will be to coordinate all aspects of the fund action, from fundraising to communicating with international organisations.”
Apeikin told BNS the sports community was taking an active part in the ongoing protests in Belarus and over 850 retired and active athletes issued an open letter demanding to hold a new election, to end violence and bring those responsible for the events in the country to justice.
“Afterwards they [authorities] started kicking them out [of organisations] and putting in jail those who actively participated in peaceful protests. We couldn’t look at this calmly and established the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation,” Apeikin said, adding that some 20 athletes have already received assistance.
The fund will also demand liability from the heads of Belarusian sports organisations for backing repressions against athletes.
“The fund's goal is to protect athletes' rights, support those who lost their jobs and cannot fully train but want to act, and, on the other hand, to seek legal liability for Belarus' sports leadership for taking part in the crackdown on athletes,” the fund's coordinator said.
The Belarusian fund's representatives also expect support from Lithuanian sports organisations and also mediation with the Western sports community.
“We are grateful to Lithuania for opening the borders and supporting the Belarusian nation. It’s also important for sports, a lot of athletes are taking active part in protests and then facing problems with law enforcement, as they are being put in jail and kicked out. And in Lithuania, we can fairly calmly engage in our activity and openly support Belarusian athletes in cooperation with the International Olympic Committee and other sports organisations,” he said.
Herasimenia's husband, who is currently an active member of the national swimming team, Yevgeny Tsurkin, has also faced problems, but is still in Belarus.
“Those who can will probably change federations. For those who cannot change federations, we will ask the International Olympic Committee to allow them to participate under the Olympic flag. The IOC is likely to ban Belarus from participating under its flag as a sanction,” Apeikin said.
Lithuanian Olympics chief pledges support for Belarusian athletes
Daina Gudzinevičiūtė, the president of Lithuania's National Olympic Committee (LTOK), has pledged to provide all the necessary assistance to Belarusian athletes if they flee to Lithuania from repression in their country.
“We had met with the [Belarusian Sport Solidarity] Foundation before. Now, we also talked about it and about assistance to athletes who may come to Lithuania for training. Of course, we will provide all the help we can,” the LTOK president told BNS .
Gudzinevičiūtė added that she met with Herasimenia on Friday “as a colleague, an Olympic champion and a former athlete” rather than as an Olympic official.