Visa issue rocks World Athletics Championship

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Sri Lankan athletes got their visa to compete at the World Athletics championship in Eugene, USA with just three days to go for the competition. They are not alone in the visa hassle as athletes from all over the world are now going through the same problem, which prompts the question about fair play, where one group of athletes have ample time to prepare in Oregon, while others have to race against the clock just to get there.

To top that, legitimacy of the men’s 100m winner at the World Championship will be in question, as the third fastest 100m runner this year, Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala, was barred from entering the USA to compete till the last minute. He did not get his visa until yesterday (14th) with his event scheduled for today (15th).

Apart from that, 19-year-old Jamaican Gregory Prince was stranded in Jamaica, and only left Jamaica yesterday after getting a delayed visa which affected his preparation and mentality, while Jamaican Shot Putter Char Wright is doubtful for the World Championship as he had not got his visa until yesterday (14th).

Meanwhile, 10 South African sprinters were stranded in Italy without a US visa, as they were unable to get an appointment with the Embassy.

The situation prompted much debate over social media, where many questioned why World Athletics even chose USA to host if they can’t facilitate fair opportunity to all qualified athletes to compete, a problem which never occurred during the last three editions – Qatar 2019, United Kingdom 2017, China 2015.

Many countries, including Sri Lanka, had to go through diplomatic channels and Foreign Ministries had to pull some strings just to get visas for their athletes, which was not the case in any of the previous global championships. Also, with problems only happening to athletes from Africa, it created much buzz about discrimination against them and USA ‘eliminating their competition.’

Marie-Josée Ta Lou of Ivory Coast, World Championship 100m silver medalist, said:

“As an athlete you work hard to be qualified for world champ only to have a visa issue and 

1- Not being able to travel

2- being able to travel and reach the same day of your race #WCHOregon22. How did they expect the athlete to perform well? This is really frustrating”

Meanwhile, former World record holder of 200m and 400m Michal Johnson was baffled by the situation, and took to social media to show his displeasure.

“I’m hearing many athletes unable to get into the US due to visa issues. I’m sure we’ll find out in the coming days the extent of this issue. But if it’s true…DAMN! This is ridiculous! It’s been known US entry visa may be one of the most difficult and WA and the organizing committee didn’t get ahead of this? #WCHOregon22” asked Johnson on twitter.

“The Oregon22 organising committee and World Athletics are working closely with the USOPC to follow up on visa applications, the majority of which have been successfully resolved. We continue to follow up with those outstanding visa issues. International travel in general has become more challenging due to the pandemic and we are extremely grateful for the help and experience of the USOPC in helping to resolve issues that have come up in the last few weeks,” said Nicole Jeffery, Head of Communications at World Athletics replying to a query from Ceylon Today.

The World Athletics Championship begins today (15th) and will go on till the 24th.

By Anjana Kaluarachchi

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