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US visa issues plague World Athletics meet: All you need to know

Hundreds of athletes, mostly Africans, have faced visa delays in getting to the US to participate in the event.

South Africa team members pose for a photo outside the stadium in Eugene, Oregon, before the start of the World Athletics Championships
South Africa team members pose for a photo outside the stadium in Eugene, Oregon, before the start of the World Athletics Championships on July 14, 2022 [Aleksandra Szmigiel/Reuters]

On Friday, the World Athletics Championships start in Eugene, Oregon, United States, as the world’s best sportspeople compete in the weeklong event, which ends on July 24.

About 2,000 athletes representing more than 200 nations will be involved. It is the first time the US is hosting this prestigious event. However, many athletes are facing difficulties in getting to the US to participate in the event due to visa delays, causing a stir in sports circles and on social media.

The highest profile name affected by the visa delays is Africa’s fastest man Ferdinand Omanyala.

Here’s all you need to know about the unfolding situation.

What is happening? 

  • The delay in the issuance of visas has been blamed on poor communication and huge post-COVID backlogs at US embassies, where athletes must schedule an appointment and interview to obtain a temporary visa.
  • At first, multiple reports indicated that Omanyala would miss the competition due to visa delays. But less than 24 hours before he was set to compete in his first race, he received his visa. Now he is expected to arrive in Oregon less than three hours before the men’s 100m heats, in which he is set to compete.
  • Omanyala shared his thanks on Twitter, saying, “Visa challenges are faced by all Kenyans and people daily, in this case I was no different.”
  • However, Omanyala still needs time to go through US customs, travel to the competition grounds and complete other logistics, which means he might not make it on time.
  • There is talk of staging a possible solo heat for Omanyala who won the African 100m title last month and holds the fastest African record of 9:77. He is the third-quickest man in the world this season behind Americans Fred Kerley and Trayvon Bromell.

Who else has been affected?

  • The Associated Press reports that there have been 375 cases, including athletes from Kenya, South Africa, Jamaica and India.
  • World Athletics spokeswoman Nicole Jeffery said the cases had been flagged to a joint committee consisting of local organisers, World Athletics and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee to speed things up.
  • As many as 10 South African athletes are in danger of missing the championships in Eugene as they are stranded in Italy due to visa problems. They have asked the government to help them with the US authorities to get visas. Among these are South African Olympian Gift Leotleta, who reached the men’s 100m semi-finals at the Tokyo Olympics last year.
  • Kenyan middle distance runner Sheila Chepkirui has not yet received her visa and she is set to compete in the 10,000m final on Saturday. https://twitter.com/dsfisc/status/1547617129104478209
  • Gregory Prince, a Jamaican 400m runner, also encountered visa delays before boarding a flight to the US.
  • Another Jamaican Olympic runner Chad Wright is hoping to get his visa on Friday to compete in the event on Sunday, according to the Jamaica Observer.
  • Indian triple jumper Eldhose Paul did not receive his visa until the start of this week, according to the Indian Express.

What did World Athletics say or do?

  • World Athletics spokeswoman Nicole Jeffery released a statement on Twitter regarding the visa situation. She attributed the visa challenges to the post-pandemic situation, saying, “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.”
  • However, the statement was not received well by some athletes. Retired world and Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson responded to the statement as “pitiful and shameful”.
  • Officials said that of the 5,500 participants and officials coming to Eugene, fewer than one percent still had visa issues on the eve of the championships. “We’ve battled to do as much as we possibly can,” World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said. “And we’ve been doing this now for some months. And of course there are political complications about nations being able to travel and nations coming into the United States.”
  • South African daily Independent Online reported that Athletics South Africa president James Moloi said the 10 athletes in Italy had received assistance from World Athletics, who issued “waiver letters” for them to be allowed to travel to the US, where their visas would be issued upon arrival.

What have the reactions been?

  • Johnson also said on Twitter that the situation was “ridiculous”, adding that “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?”
  • Ivorian Olympian Marie-Josee Ta Lou called it “frustrating”, saying “How did they expect the athlete to perform well?”
  • US Olympic marathon runner Aliphine Tuliamuk said: “Getting a US visa especially in Kenya right now is very very hard, in fact embassy appointments aren’t available till 2024.”
  • Kenya’s athlete representative Davor Šavija said on Twitter, “Deafening silence from World Athletics Championship as more and more athletes will miss the Champs due to visa issues. Imagine if the same was happening with athletes from other countries, than what we are hearing so far about …”
  • Some observers have accused the US of wanting to rig the event.

 

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies