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Bangkok Post
Bangkok Post

World Athletics Champs organisers scrambling to fix visa issues

Italian athlete Ayomide Folorunso celebrates her arrival at the World Athletics Championship, inside the Hayward Field stadium, in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo: Reuters)

EUGENE, Oregon: Organisers of the World Athletics Championships were desperately trying to clear a visa issuing logjam that threatened to prevent around 100 athletes, coaches and officials from entering the United States for the competition, which starts on Friday.

Dozens of athletes from around the world have been flagging their problems, with Kenyan sprinter Ferdinand Omanyala among the most high-profile. Omanyala finally got his visa approved but faced a diferent kind of race to arrive in Eugene in time for Friday's 100 metres heats.

Fellow Kenyan Sheila Chepkirui, due to race the 10,000 metres on Saturday, said that her U.S. visa was approved in May but that she still did not have the stamp in her passport. "Tears and pain. Silence," she wrote on Instagram. Several others have received late approval but will now arrive on the day of their races - hardly ideal preparation for the sport's biggest event outside the Olympics.

American former world champion sprinter Michael Johnson tweeted: "This would never happen in a truly professional sport."

World Athletics (WA) said on Thursday that 255 of 374 outstanding visa cases had been resolved after being escalated to a joint group comprising USOPC, Oregon22 and World Athletics. Another 20 have been refused and around 100 are still to be resolved, with many of them expected to fail.

"We won't be 100 percent satisfied unless we had 100 percent of the athletes here. That is not something that we will probably be able to achieve but that is what we strive for," USATF COO Renee Washington told a news conference following a WA Council meeting. "Of the 5,500 participants that needed visas, less than one percent have yet to be resolved."

One of the complications for this event is that WA left the window for qualification open until very close to the start in order to give athletes more chance to find competitions due to the impact of Covid on events. It means that many have had to start the visa application process relatively late.

WA president Seb Coe said: "In percentage terms it's a small number, but that's of no comfort if you are in that category. "We will work right up to the last minute but this is a very complicated multi-faceted landscape. There isn't one thing that is the dominant problem. Sometimes it's a staffing issue, some people are struggling to get face to face interviews. There are political complications as well about nations being able to travel into the United States."

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