Pakistan wrestlers will be able to participate in the Asian Wrestling Championships here from February 18 after the Indian government cleared their travel documents on Saturday. However, visas of a 40-member strong Chinese contingent are yet to be cleared and it is highly unlikely that they will get a green signal. The outbreak of coronavirus in China has led to several countries, including India, putting severe travel restrictions. In a last-minute dash, the Indian Olympic Association and Sports Ministry swung into action and convinced the Ministry of Home Affairs that denying visas to the Pakistani contingent could lead to strong repercussions from the International Olympic Committee in an Olympic year.
The Indian government cleared the participation of four Pakistani freestyle wrestlers, one coach and one referee. The Indian Embassy in Pakistan is closed on Saturday but in a special gesture, the documents of the Pakistan team were processed.
Pakistan had all but pulled out of the event. “We had officially told them (the Wrestling Federation of India) that we will not be able to participate in the event due to visa problems,” said Ghulam Farid, a Pakistan Wrestling Federation official.
“We had asked them to give us the visa before February 15 and United World Wrestling had also said the same.
“But WFI was not able to manage and therefore we informed our team that we will not be going. Internally we needed some clearance for travel to India and it takes time so we wanted at least an assurance from WFI.”
On Saturday, WFI informed them that their travel has been cleared, and they should collect their passport and visas from the Indian Embassy in Islamabad.
“We have very cordial relations with Indian federation and they have been helpful. But due to political instability between the two nations, these things happen,” Farid said.
It has been learnt that IOA president Narinder Batra and secretary sports Radhey Shyam Julaniya played a key role in getting the clearances from the MHA.
In February last year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had banned India from hosting international events as two Pakistani rapid pistol shooters were denied visas for the ISSF World Cup, an Olympic qualifying event, held in New Delhi.
The ban was lifted after sports minister Kiren Rijiju wrote to IOC with an assurance that visas will not be denied to the Pakistani athletes. This time too, United World Wrestling (UWW), the world governing body in wrestling, had warned the Indian federation that all participating nations need to be given visas, or else India may be penalized by being barred from the Asian Olympic qualifier scheduled in March.
As per UWW bidding rules, it’s mandatory for hosts to ensure all participating countries get visas for a tournament.
“We are hoping that Chinese visas are cleared by Monday but worldwide there have been travel restrictions on China after the coronavirus threat and the world wrestling body will understand that,’ said WFI assistant secretary Vinod Tomar.