NEW DELHI: Pakistan’s participation in the Asian Athletics Championships, to be held in Bhubaneswar from July 6-9, remained uncertain as the government was yet to clear the visas of its contingent.
With the deadline of making final entry of athletes having ended on Tuesday, athletes from neighbouring countries are set to start arriving here in the next few days, but the Indian government is yet to grant visas to the Pakistani athletes.
Athletics Federation of India (AFI) president Adille Sumariwalla said that the organisers are awaiting a response from the government on the matter.
“We have invited Pakistan for the championships. Under International Olympic Committee Protocol, you have to send invitation to all countries. Pakistan has sent their entries and we have forwarded the name of their athletes and their passports to government. We are awaiting a response from the government,” Sumariwalla said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“India played with Pakistani teams in cricket and hockey (outside India). So, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of External Affairs will take a call on the participation of Pakistan in Asian Athletics Championships,” he added.
Reports emanating from Pakistan said that they have sent entries of at least half a dozen athletes for the championships and have applied for visas early this month.
Due to the worsening relation between the two neighbouring countries, Pakistan could not take part in the Asian Wrestling Championships here and Asian Snooker Championships in Chennai last month as their players could not get visas.
Last December, the Pakistan hockey team was not granted visas for the FIH Junior World Cup in Lucknow. India has also refused to play bilateral cricket with Pakistan and the country’s sports minister has even gone on record that “terrorism and sports can’t go along and Pakistan should understand that”.
Pakistani athletes took part in the 2013 Asian Championships held in Pune.
More than 800 athletes from 45 countries will take part in the event to be held at the renovated Kalinga Stadium, making it the biggest ever Asian Championships. This is the third time India is hosting the Asian Championships after New Delhi (1989) and Pune (2013).
At least 10 athletes, who are either medallists of Rio Olympics or World Championships, will take part in the Asian flagship event. Rio hammer throw gold winner Dilshod Nazarov of Tajikistan, Olympics 3000m steeplechase winner Ruth Jebet of Bahrain and top Qatari high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim are among those who are set to take part.
The gold medal winners in the 42 events of the championships will get a direct entry into the World Championships to be held in London in August.
The Odisha government, which is organising the championships, has spent Rs 59 crore.
India will field 168 athletes, the biggest among the participating countries, while China and Japan will send 96 and 78. India will announce its final entries next week.
“With nearly 1100 athletes and officials coming for the event, it is going to be the biggest ever Asian Championships and I hope this will also be the most successful one,” said Sumariwalla, an 100m Olympian and national champion himself.
Asked about India’s chances in the championships, he said, “We won 13 medals (4 gold, 4 silver, 4 bronze) in 2015 Asian Championships in Wuhan, China. We will get more gold, more medals, but I feel we will still finish at third.”
Sumariwalla praised the Odisha government and its officials for renovating the Kalinga Stadium in a record time of three months, after the original venue, Ranchi, pulled out due to financial reasons.
“Ranchi got the hosting rights in 2015 but in March they pulled out. We were thinking where will we hold the event. It was a matter of pride for the country.
“Sports Secretary Injeti Srinivas suggested we should look at Kalinga Stadium in Bhubaneswar. We went there but I found there nothing except for a ground without any running track. But on March 30, Odisha government said they will host the championships,” the AFI president said.
“Once they decided to host the event, I was amazed at the commitment, honesty and transparency of the team of officials who worked day and night to prepare a world class stadium in record time of three months. A brand new synthetic track and another practice track was laid. From the incredible work they had done, I told myself that this country can do amazing things if we want to.”
The executive council of the Asian Athletics Association will meet in Bhubaneswar on July 4 and the AAA Congress will be held the next day. The opening ceremony of the championships will be held on July 5.
International Athletics Federation president Sebastian Coe will attend the AAA council meeting and also the Congress.