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Clueless about UAE’s quarantine rules, did PCI rob para powerlifters of Tokyo Paralympics participation?

The Times of India logo The Times of India 18-06-2021 Sabi Hussain
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NEW DELHI: Every athlete – able-bodied or differently-abled – dreams of representing his/her country at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which comes once in every four years. These athletes train for years, devoting themselves entirely to their sports with a single-minded determination to shine at the world’s biggest sporting stage. However, when the official apathy and lackadaisical attitude of those serving important positions in the country’s national sports federations (NSFs) rob these athletes of their genuine qualification chances for the Games, one can’t but feel sorry for such sportspersons.

This is exactly what has happened with India’s top para powerlifters, who have been denied their rightful chance to secure qualification berths for the Tokyo Paralympics. The Paralympics Committee of India (PCI) botched up their travel plans to the UAE to participate in the ‘Fazza 2021 Para Powerlifting World Cup’ in Dubai from June 19 to 24. The World Cup will provide the last qualification window for the para powerlifters to ensure their Paralympics participation.

A 13-member contingent, including nine athletes, was originally selected by the PCI for the championship, but efforts were later made to send at least three powerlifters – Sakina Khatun, Jaideep and Sudhir, who stood the best chance to qualify for the para Games. Now, with the country’s non-participation in the event, PCI’s wafer-thin hopes rest on the good offices of its global governing body, the World Para Powerlifting (formerly known as the IPC Powerlifting) to make an exception and offer a couple of quota places as special case to Indian para powerlifters.

PCI’s office-bearers, especially its secretary general Gursharan Singh, came up with a bizarre explanation. According to Gursharan, all this while he was busy checking with the World Cup organisers (LOC) whether there’s a quarantine period in place for the para powerlifters arriving in Dubai, when a simple google search would have enlightened him that the Indian travellers are required to undergo a 14-day quarantine in the Emirates. Singh also informed that he had been enquiring over phone about the quarantine from the championship’s general manager Majid Rashed, also the president of the Asian Paralympics Committee (APC), who apparently told him that there’s no such waiting period for the India para athletes. However, Gursharan couldn’t produce any official written communication or mail to support his claim. He later said that the PCI was told about the existence of such a mandatory quarantine period by the LOC three-four days back and, by that time, there wasn’t much left for the federation to do.

There’s no restriction on sportspersons travelling abroad for important tournaments during these uncertain times of Covid-19, as the visa offices of different countries have been considerate enough to allow athletes’ travel for Olympic qualification meets. But, having said that, every country has its own stringent quarantine rules – especially for Indian travellers given the raging pandemic situation here – and one has to follow these guidelines in totality. Able-bodied archers (Paris), shooters (Zagreb) and wrestlers (Russia), all preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, have followed the quarantine rules of countries chosen as their training base. It’s bizarre that the PCI kept looking for clarification over the quarantine from the LOC when several whatsapp messages and emails were exchanged between Fazza LOC General Coordinator, Fathi Ali Lashehab and Gursharan. There were five para Powerlifting World Cups in the qualification cycle this year and India missed out on four of them because of different issues concerning the worrying Covid-19 situation here. India missed sending its team to Bogota (March 5-8) and Manchester (March 25-28) WCs because of the international flight ban on Indian travellers, while the Bangkok WC organisers (May 5-9) simply refused to entertain the entries. Fazza WC was the last qualification chance for the powerlifters to confirm their Tokyo Paralympics participation. But that opportunity has also been robbed of them, thanks to the PCI’s confusion over the quarantine period.

“The organisers had accepted our team entry through the IPC online system. The accommodation was also booked. All necessary travel arrangements from India were made by the PCI. When the organisers asked us to make the online payment for our participation, we enquired about the quarantine period from them. We didn’t receive any response from them. We reached out to them again and, this time, they told us that there’s no such quarantine for our para powerlifters. Now suddenly, they informed us that there will be a quarantine for 14 days and the LOC can’t do anything about it. If they will tell us at the eleventh hour, what can the PCI do?” Gursharan said.

To her credit, PCI president Deepa Malik did try her level best to resolve the issue when it was brought to her notice by the participating athletes and she approached the concerned authorities to make an exception under special circumstances. But by that time, it was too little too late for her.

On June 14, Malik received a mail from Fazza LOC General Coordinator Lashehab, informing her that “there’s mandatory 14 days quarantine as part of Covid-19 precautions and counter measures requirements for Indian citizens when they travel to Dubai” and that “ the organising committee kept close contact with your good office and exchanged several communications with Mr Gursharan Singh via e-mail, whatsapp and phone calls, regarding your team’s participation in the World Cup”.

“We totally understand your frustration about the situation of your athletes and share your concerns regarding their qualification pathway to the Paralympic Games. Would you kindly allow me to clarify to you that the organising committee of the Fazza 2021 Para Powerlifting World Cup kept close contact with your good office and exchanged several communications with Mr Gursharan via e-mail, whatsapp and phone calls, regarding your team’s participation in the 11th Fazza Dubai 2021 World Para Powerlifting World Cup,” read the communication.

“We have tried by all means and endeavours to obtain an exception from the competent authorities to exempt your team from the mandatory14 days quarantine as part of Covid-19 precautions and counter measures requirements for Indian citizens when they travel to Dubai. The general manager of Fazza international championships for people of Determination Mr Majid Rashed, who is also the president of the Asian Paralympic Committee, spoke at the webinar call meeting on June 7, 2021 to the countries participating in the competition, and he mentioned that the organising committee will not save any effort and will continue trying to obtain an exception for your team, he also answered your para powerlifting coach and clarified the situation to him when he asked the question. As LOC of the event, we can’t overrule the decisions of the higher authorities in the country regarding the precautionary measures, controls and conditions for confronting the corona virus for travellers to Dubai, and we have done our best to exclude your team from the quarantine requirement, but our request was not accepted. This matter is beyond our capabilities and we appreciate your understanding as we hope your athletes will have the opportunity to participate in Tokyo 2020,” the communication concluded.

Earlier, on June 3, the Embassy of India in Abu Dhabi had written to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, UAE government, Abu Dhabi, requesting them to grant visas to the Indian team for participating in the World Cup. “This is to inform you that due to ongoing travel restrictions from India to UAE since April 24, 2021, the embassy of the UAE in New Delhi is neither accepting visa applications nor granting visa until the purpose of travel comes under essential services. It is pertinent to mention that this is the last Paralympic qualifying tournament for Indian para powerlifting team. It is important to achieve eligibility in this competition to qualify for Tokyo Paralympics. In view of the above, the esteemed Ministry is kindly requested to advise the concerned authorities to grant visas and exempt the Indian para powerlifting team from travel restrictions to enable them to travel to Dubai from India at the earliest,” the letter read. The letter attached the list of the contingent members, which included nine para powerlifters in Sakina, Jaideep, Sudhir, Manpreet Kaur, Sachin Chaudhary, Paramjeet Kumar, Ashok, Rajendar Singh Rahelu and Pratima Bonde, besides two coaches Farman Basha and J P Singh.

On June 8, the UAE’s Foreign Ministry wrote to the Indian embassy in Abu Dhabi, stating “the concerned authorities of the UAE have informed that there is no objection upon the entry of the team to the UAE for participation in the above championship Fazza World Cup with adherence to all preventive and precautionary measures related to Covid-19”.

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