Visa issues threaten India’s World Relays trip

The Athletics Federation of India has finalised the men’s and women’s 4x400m relay teams for the IAAF World Relays championships which start in Nassau on April 22, but the visa interviews are yet to be gone through.

India’s 4X400 Relay women's team celebrate their gold-medal win at the 20th Asian Athletics Championships in Pune in 2013.   -  K. Murali Kumar

The IAAF World Relays championships begin in the Bahamas in just about 12 days but the Indian teams are still not sure whether they would get their visas on time. The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has finalised the men’s and women’s 4x400m relay teams for the two-day meet which starts in Nassau on April 22 but the visa interviews are yet to be gone through.

“They have to go through the U.S. and there are visa issues. We are not sure whether they will get the visas since the immigration policies have changed. We have been trying for more than 20 days now,” an AFI official told Sportstar on Sunday.

A top national camp coach confirmed the development. “I think there is an interview for the transit visas, there seems to be some issue regarding them and that appears to be reason for the delay,” said the coach. “First, they said the team might go on April 17 but nothing has come regarding the visa interview dates.”

Apart from prominent stars like national record holder Mohammed Anas and Asian Games medallist Arokia Rajiv in the men’s section and M.R. Poovamma, Tintu Luka and Jisna Mathew in women’s, the Indian team for the World Relays also includes a surprise name in Gujarat’s Sarita Ben Gayakwad. “Sarita who? I don’t know much about her,” said the prominent coach. “Anyway, I have not seen her in a major competition. I don’t think they had any trials.”

Two of the four women – Anilda Thomas and Nirmala Sheoran – who ran in the Rio Olympics are missing from the six-member team for the World Relays. Kerala’s Anilda, last year’s Federation Cup champion, said she had started serious training only a month ago. “After my marriage, I started workouts just a month ago. So I didn’t push for my case for the World Relays,” said the Olympian.

Another Kerala quartermiler Anu Raghavan, who took the AFI to court when she did not find a place in the Indian mile relay team for the Rio Olympics, was not keen on going to the national camp in Patiala. “Anyway, I did not hear about any trials for the World Relays,” said Anu.

Haryana’s Nirmala Sheoran, who also ran the individual 400m at the Olympics after a stunning 51.48s in the Hyderabad Inter-State Nationals last year, appears to be lying low now. The Indian women are the Asian Games champions and record-holders in the mile relay.

Adille Sumariwalla, the AFI President, told this correspondent last week that the AFI was sending the Indian teams – both the men and women are among the world’s 16 in the road to this August’s Worlds in London – to Bahamas to gain exposure. “We have the Worlds in August and it’s too early in the season for our athletes so this meet will be more for experience. Sometimes, our athletes have problems handling pressure.”

The teams for World Relays:

Men: Mohammed Anas (Ker), Arokia Rajiv (TN), P. Kunhumuhammed (Ker), Jeevan Suresh (Kar), Jithin Paul (Ker), Sumit Kumar (UP). Coach: Mohammed Kunhi.

Women: M.R. Poovamma (Kar), Sarita Ben Gayakwad (Guj), Santosh Kumari (Har), Debashree Majumdar (WB), Tintu Luka (Ker), Jisna Mathew (Ker). Coach: P.T. Usha.