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A victim of visa delay, shuttler Tarun Kona hopes for a proper system in place

FEATURED COLUMNIST
Exclusive
684   //    09 Jul 2017, 21:37 IST
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Tarun Kona (R) has been delayed by Visa problems

“We were supposed to leave yesterday night because we thought we would get our visa on Friday but we didn’t. And then Saturday and Sunday are holidays for the Canadian Embassy. Tomorrow morning, Alwin and I are travelling to Bangalore first, straight to the Consulate hoping that they clear our passports and we get to leave India for Calgary by tomorrow night. If tomorrow we are denied our visa then even we will have to withdraw from the Canada Open,” men’s doubles World No. 50 Tarun Kona ruefully told Sportskeeda in an exclusive chat on Sunday.

At a time when Kona and his partner Alwin Francis should be chalking out plans to tackle the German team of Daniel Benz and Andreas Heinz, they now have an extra hassle of travelling all the way to Bangalore from Hyderabad to find out whether they would at all be able to take that flight to Calgary.

Kona’s plight comes to light after Sameer Verma’s

First it was the singles World No. 33 Sameer Verma, who faced the same obstacle - a delay in visa - that forced him to pull out of the Grand Prix event, scheduled to begin from July 11 and now the latest victim is the men’s doubles pair of Kona and Francis.

But where Verma and Kona/Francis differ is that the doubles action begins on July 12 which leaves the door ajar for them to still make it to Canada should they manage to procure their visa on Monday morning.

For Verma, who was looking forward to resume competitive play after a hiatus of two months due to a shoulder injury, there was no such opportunity as the singles play gets under way on Tuesday.

Kona had never been through such an ordeal regarding visas before and this is his and Francis’ last-ditch effort to try and secure their license to go to Canada.

The two have won a couple of International level events this year. Their consistent performances have pushed them inside the top 50 and for Tarun, the steady progress has brought him closer to his career-best ranking of 37th that he achieved in 2013.

The ascent has opened up the bigger tournaments for them, participation in which is of utmost importance to continue the climb up the rankings. In June, they entered the draw at the Australian Open, their second Superseries tournament of the year after the India Open.

BADMINTON-AUS : News Photo
If India needs more athletes like Kidambi, they shouldn’t have to worry about their visa
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They could apply for the Canada visa only after returning from Australia. Self-sponsorship required them to make the necessary application by themselves which they did on June 26. Since then, they are in the dark about their passports.

“Actually we had gone for the Australia Superseries and came back and applied immediately. We are playing these tournaments on our own funds so we applied by ourselves on the 26th of June in Bangalore,” Kona explained.

He admitted that it is safer to apply for a Canadian visa with a minimum of 25 days in hand but he also raised a pertinent point that it is difficult for travelling sports professionals to abide by it.

“The Canadian visa is a problem I guess because they are saying a minimum of 25 days but then, no professional player would have so much time to get a visa done as we are always travelling.”

Indian shuttlers continue to face visa delays

2016 Hong Kong Open Badminton Championships : News Photo
HS Prannoy had faced a similar problem a few weeks ago 

Kona, Francis and Verma are not the only ones. For the last couple of months, Indian shuttlers had been in deep waters regarding visas.

A month ago, HS Prannoy, who dazzled at the Indonesia Open, was unsure if he would be able to fly to Jakarta. He ultimately had to resort to Twitter for help and the matter was resolved after it was brought to the Sports Minister Vijay Goel’s attention.

More recently, Prannoy and Commonwealth Games champion Parupalli Kashyap had a similar plight. The two along with doubles ace Sikki Reddy were left in the lurch with absolutely no idea when their visas for the New Zealand Grand Prix would be granted.

It compounded their problems further as they were scheduled to leave for the Canada Open just days later. A frantic appeal to the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Sports Minister Vijay Goel on social media finally relieved them of their headaches.

This has been a recurring issue this year. With Indian badminton soaring to lofty heights, there are now more shuttlers in the elite rankings that guarantee them a spot in the prestigious tournaments. If they are deprived of such hard-earned golden opportunities of playing alongside the best, we are only stunting our growth as a badminton powerhouse.

Worrying about the visa is not the athletes’ job when their only focus should be on the prize. For the likes of Kona and Francis, who have to fund themselves, it will be a crushing blow if the visa debacle robs them of such chances. And even if they indeed make it at the last minute, it can have a negative impact on their performances.

Procedure needed to expedite visa approval for athletes

It is imperative that a proper system needs to be in place soon that can take care of such troubles and leave the athletes to do the job they are best at - training and playing.

Kona agrees. A procedure is urgently needed to ensure that sportspersons are not stranded like this.

“BAI is doing all it can and they are doing their best. Played so many tournaments so this is the first time it’s happening to me. BAI and Anand Khare Sir, who’s in charge, are doing a wonderful job. But for sports persons I guess there has to be some kind of a procedure where we can get the visas done faster because we have such a hectic schedule in hand,” Kona emphasizes.

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