Thirty-three members of the Indian contingent for the World School Games, Doha Gymnasiade 2009, to be held from December 6-13, were stranded at the Abu Dhabi airport for almost 24 hours due to visa problems.
The 51-member contingent, comprising 44 athletes in the age group of 13-17, had left for Doha via Abu Dhabi on Saturday evening with almost half of them without proper visa documents.
Though they were allowed to board the flight from New Delhi, authorities at the Abu Dhabi airport detained them and only those with correct documents could proceed.
While the gymnasts and half of the swimming team have reached Doha, the athletes and seven girl swimmers had to sleep on the airport floor at night, and at the time of going to press, they were still at the airport.
“We are stiff and without any rest. We are in touch with the officials and have been assured that the visas would be arranged soon,” said a player.
Sources said the School Games Federation of India (SGFI) had not sent the documents on time and that caused the problem.
SGFI assistant secretary, K.S. Murthy, denied there was a delay and blamed the Eid holidays in Qatar for the players’ predicament. “The deadline for submission of documents was November 13 and we had submitted the documents on November 11. But the 10-day leave upset everything as the offices opened on December 3 and the next day was Friday (the weekly off),” he told HT from Bhopal.
“The organisers had asked us to let the team board the flight and they would get the visas processed in the meantime. But the Abu Dhabi authorities refused to allow these athletes on the onward flight to Doha and we are now trying to get things cleared as soon as possible,” he added.
The SGFI website tells a different tale. The trials for swimming and gymnastics were held on November 11 and sources said the papers were submitted almost a week later.
When contacted, a spokesperson of the Doha Gymnasiade 2009 declined to comment on whether the Indians had sent the papers in time but assured efforts were being made to put the players on board the earliest flight to Qatar.
Swimmers worst hit
The ordeal for the swimming contingent began on Friday when they boarded the train from Bhopal to Agra to join the rest of the contingent. When they reached in the evening, officials informed them that their visas had not arrived and the contingent left for Delhi by bus just after midnight.