US visa drama could jeopardise Africa chances of winning maiden world title

US visa drama could jeopardise Africa chances of winning maiden world title
Two of Africa’s fastest men, Ferdinand Omanyala (Africa record holder) of Kenya and South African Akani Simbine. [Photo: Ferdinand Omanyala Facebook Page]

Ferdinand Omanyala wears two wristbands on his right arm: one, made of black and green beads, bears the number 9:85, which is his season-best time in 100m.

He set time set in May.

The other, a bracelet crafted from leather and metal, is inscribed with 9:77, the African record he set last September.

This time made Omanyala ninth fastest man in the world just behind four Americans and three Jamaicans.

At 26 years, Omanyala, a Kenyan is Africa’s fastest man.

His eyes were trained on the World Athletics Championships until acquiring a US visa became an elephant task.

Early Thursday morning, he told journalists that he had to withdraw from the World Championships because he had not received his visa for the United States in time.

“Even if I get a visa today, it’s too late,” explained the third best 100m performer of the year with his 9 sec 85/100th in May behind Americans Fred Kerley and Trayvon Bromell.

But hours later, after intervention reportedly from the office of the president (Uhuru Kenyatta), Omanyala got a visa enabling him to travel to the US.

Omanyala tweeted on Thursday that he had his visa and a seat on a flight out of Nairobi.

“Am positive that I will compete,” he wrote. “Thanks so much for your support and prayers.”

Frustrations

In the whole story of frustrations, Omanyala was not alone.

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 begins 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 traveling 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 World Championships. 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.

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 find 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’.

Team Nigeria fails to get the visa to World Relays in Poland

Last year Nigerian athletes failed to participate at the World Athletics Relays in Poland following their inability to secure visas from the Polish embassy.

The World Athletics Relays began on May 1 at the Silesian Stadium in Chorzow, Poland. Team Nigeria had lined up 24 athletes (12 males and 12 females) for the event in Poland with the hope of picking qualification tickets for the Tokyo Olympics. The country had entered five relay teams: 4x100m (men and women), 4x400m (men and women), and the mixed 4 x400m in Poland.

Tokyo Olympics

The covid-19 pandemic made Tokyo Olympics be postponed by a year.  The pandemic posed numerous challenges to the host country and sportspersons across the globe. The games would witness a set of goal stars who for various reasons opted out.

Superstars Neymar, Mbappe, and Salah (Brazil, France, Egypt; football) were withdrawn from their respective national squads. This was after Neymar and Mbappe’s club PSG and Salah’s Liverpool refused to release their star players for the Games despite the three expressing interest in leading their national sides.

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