Ridiculous, frustrating: Organisers slammed after athletes forced to withdraw from World Championships due to US visa issues

By: Express News Service |

Updated: July 14, 2022 3:05:07 pm

Omanyala, won't be travelling to Eugene, considered the spiritual home of American athletics, for the World Championships after he did not get a visa to travel. (Reuters)

Before they set the track and field on fire over the next 10 days, some of the world’s top athletes have had to run around at the American embassies around the globe. This, after several track-and-field stars, including Indians, complained of visa delays to travel for the athletics World Championship, which begin Friday, leading to suggestions from many current and former stars that the competition risks getting diluted.

The issue was forced into the limelight on Thursday after it emerged that Africa’s fastest man, Ferdinand Omanyala, won’t be travelling to Eugene, considered the spiritual home of American athletics, for the World Championships after he did not get a visa to travel.

Omanyala became the biggest casualty on the eve of the worlds. The Kenyan sprinter announced his forced withdrawal in a statement via his spokesperson, saying he has already set his sights on the Birmingham Commonwealth Games later this month and next year’s world championships in Budapest.

“Sadly, I won’t be participating in this year’s world championships in Oregon. I did not get my visa in time for travel,” Omanyala was quoted as saying by Reuters. “It’s hard for me too because we worked hard and even trained through pain, but like I always say, positivity, everything happens for a reason. We will redeem ourselves at the Budapest world championships next year. We also have the Commonwealth Games coming in two weeks’ time. Thanks for the support and prayers.”

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Omanyala, who set the African men’s 100 metres record after clocking a time of 9.77 seconds, might be the biggest name to pull out of the world championships so far, but he isn’t the only one.

Athletes from at least half-a-dozen countries, including India, have had trouble getting their visas to travel for the World Championships, prompting former world and Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson to label the situation as ‘ridiculous’.

“I’m hearing many athletes unable to get into the US due to visa issues. I’m sure we’ll found out in the coming days the extent of this issue. But if it’s true…DAMN!” Johnson wrote on Twitter. He later commented: “This is ridiculous! It’s been known US entry visa may be one of the most difficult and WA (World Athletics) and the organizing committee didn’t get ahead of this?”

The athletics legend’s second tweet was in response to the plight of another top athlete who looks set to miss out on the world championships, Marie-Josee Ta Lou. The Ivory Coast sprinter, who finished third in the Diamond League race in Paris last month, vented out her frustration at the inability to get a visa on Wednesday, calling it ‘really frustrating’.

“As an athlete you work hard to be qualified for world champ only to have a visa issue and, 1- not been able to travel; 2-been able to travel and reach the same day of your race,” she wrote on Twitter. “How did they except the athlete to perform well? This is really frustrating.”

India’s 200m runner Dhanalakshmi Sekar, who recorded a personal best time of 22.89 seconds in Kazakhstan last month, reportedly had to face anxious moments while triple jumper Eldhose Paul, too, had not received his visa until the start of this week.

South Africa’s Gift Leotleta, who reached the 100m semifinals at the Tokyo Olympics last year, told IOL Sport on Wednesday that he and nine other South African sprinters were stranded in Italy since they hadn’t received their US visas.

Jamaican 400m runner Gregory Prince had to endure visa delays before boarding a flight to the US while his compatriot Chad Wright, an Olympic discus throw finalist, is hoping to get his visa on Friday to be able to compete in his event on Sunday, according to the Jamaica Observer.

In a statement, the World Athletics said the issues had come up due to the ‘challenging’ travel situation post-pandemic. “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,” the world body said in a statement on Twitter. “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.”

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