CHENNAI: One of the few challenges confronting the new sports minister was to sort out the visa issue. After the Pulwama terror attack in February, Pakistani shooters could not participate at the World Cup in New Delhi because they did not get visa clearance from India. Even before that, a Kosovar boxer was not allowed to take part in the women’s world championship in New Delhi last November.
Both these incidents irked the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which shot a strongly-worded letter asking India to tread carefully and suspended discussions after Pakistan shooters were denied visas. The first competition that will have a direct bearing after the sports ministry issued the letter allowing athletes from all National Olympic Committees to participate is the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships, which starts next month in Cuttack. If sources are to be believed, no Pakistani table tennis player has sent an entry. The letter opens an avenue for them to participate.
According to Table Tennis Federation of India (TTFI) officials, the letter has been communicated to them and they would be discussing about the likelihood of Pakistani participation soon. If required, they might even give a window of few extra days for Pakistani paddlers to enter into the event.
“The letter is very positive and we welcome it,” said an official. “As for Pakistan participation, we will have to wait and see. The invitations are already with them. We look forward to their participation.” If they do send entries and take part, it will be the first high-profile instance of athletes from Pakistan participating in a sporting event in India since the hockey World Cup last year.
The International Hockey Federation (FIH) is likely to be the first International Federation (IF) to keep one eye on these developments. After the IOC threw the rule book at India following the fiasco at the shooting World Cup, FIH said it was monitoring developments as Hockey India (HI) had submitted bids to host either next men’s or women’s World Cup in 2023. These assurances from the sports ministry will mean HI will now have a better chance of securing the rights.
But the one curious thing in the letter - sent to IOA president Narinder Batra - is the omission of the word “Pakistan” from it. But sports secretary Radhe Shyam Julaniya suggested that the letter was universal in its application. “I think it’s self explanatory,” he told this daily. “It is the stated policy of the government of this country... it has always been the policy of this country and this (letter) was just about reiterating that. That policy never changed as we adhere to the Olympic charter.”
IOA president Batra welcomed the decision of the sports ministry and thanked all who helped resolve the issue. Besides Boxing Federation of India president Ajay Singh, he also thanked all office bearers and executive board members of IOA. Meanwhile, Julaniya also suggested that the government will not interfere with the men’s tennis team’s upcoming trip to Pakistan in September for a Davis Cup tie.