THERE was a sense of gloom at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi on Saturday. Majority of the young archers who were scheduled to have their practice in the afternoon were absent. Among the few who did turn up was 16-year-old Simran Kaur. She along with 22 others were scheduled to depart to South Dakota, United States, on Saturday night to participate in the World Youth Archery Championship.
However, the US embassy’s decision to reject the visas of more than 20 archers and other officials have come as a rude shock for the Indian contingent here.
The daughter of a private school teacher in Patiala, Simran is part of the sub-junior recurve team, and one of the 14 members whose visas were rejected.
This was the first time she had managed to make the cut. With her maiden national dreams aborted, Simran was disconsolate. “It’s really frustrating. We have been practising for more than three months here in Delhi, and all of a sudden we are told that our visas have been rejected. All our efforts have gone down the drain. I was confident we would win a medal in USA,” a distraught Simran said. The young cadet added that her interview with the embassy officials “went along expected lines”, which was all the more baffling when she was later told that her visa was rejected.
“The officials asked me simple questions like where I was studying and how long I was involved with the sport. They also asked me if I had any friends or relatives living in the USA. They also enquired about my father — his name and occupation. After that they held discussions among themselves, then looked at my passport and asked me to leave. A little later I was told that my visa had been rejected. The whole thing did not make any sense,” she said.
Simran’s senior Madhu Kidawat, part of the junior recurve team, has represented India at several national and international events in the past. Unlike Simran, she is not new to embassy interviews.
“I was not nervous facing embassy officials. They asked obvious questions, mostly personal and family details. I had answered them well, so I don’t know the reason for my rejection. The whole exercise was futile,” she said. Apart from Simran and Madhu, the US embassy had also rejected visas of head coach Lim and his three assistant coaches — Mim Bahadur Gurung, Chandra Shekhar Laguri and Ram Awdesh.
A shocked Archery Association of India (AAI) rallied behind the squad and even approached the Ministry of External Affairs and the Sports Ministry in this regard.
But with the tournament in South Dakota scheduled to begin on Monday, the AAI had no option but to back out from the event. AAI secretary general Anil Kamineni said the association had all the documents ready — from the Centre’s sanction to the invitation from the U.S. Archery Association to AAI’s official team list.
“The US embassy’s move is surprising and frustrating. We had all the documents in place… having said that they (the embassy) are the ultimate authority. It is their prerogative who enters their country. But I feel sorry for our young archers who have been practising really hard for over three months at our camp in Delhi,” Kamineni said.
This episode may have deflated the spirits of the young archers, but Simran and Madhu are undeterred.
“There’s no point complaining. We have to forget this episode and focus on our future events,” Madhu added. The duo are quietly charting the roadmap ahead — preparing for the Youth Commonwealth Games in Australia in July.
Meanwhile, the Indian Olympic Association has decided to lodge a protest with the IOC and its United States counterpart for the treatment meted out to the young athletes.