The US Should Be Ashamed Athletes Can’t Get Visas to Attend the World Athletics Championships

By Robert Johnson
July 15, 2022

EUGENE, Ore. — Often my brother reminds me, “Don’t be critical all the time. It’s far too easy to complain about things but not necessarily be helpful if you don’t have a better solution to offer.” And I must admit, one of my favorite sayings of all time is the famous, “It’s not the critic who counts” that Teddy Roosevelt made in his “man in the arena” speech at the Sorbonne in 1910. But I’m sorry, I can’t help myself.

I just got to Eugene very late last night and haven’t even stepped into Hayward Field yet to watch the track & field action at the 2022 World Athletics Championships, which got underway this morning. And I already have a topic to rant about. Make that one and a half. So here goes.

  1. It’s an absolute joke the US invited the world’s best athletes to come to Eugene to compete in the World Championships but then didn’t approve a number of their visas

By now you’ve probably heard the ordeal of Africa’s fastest man Ferdinand Omanyala, who earlier this year beat Worlds 100m favorite Fred Kerley. Omanyala only got his visa approved yesterday and he’s set to arrive tonight just 2.5 hours before his event starts. But Omanyala’s visa was approved. Many others aren’t so fortunate.

Sheila Chepkirui is one of the top half marathon runners in the world. She was second in the Kenyan 10,000 trials and excited to come to Worlds. She won’t be here. She isn’t the only one.

Yes, I’m sure part of the blame in some of these cases lies with people outside the US not submitting paperwork in a timely or proper fashion or missing documents, etc., but with Chepkirui I don’t think that’s the case.

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Chepkirui’s P1 visa application was approved in May but she never actually got her visa.

US agent Tom Ratcliffe, who helped with her visa application, said he’s been doing this for 25 years and never seen anyone rejected after the P1 petition was approved as was the case with Chepkirui .

And the visa issue isn’t just a problem for athletes from developing countries. Chris Thompson, 41, who was Great Britain’s top marathoner in the Tokyo Olympics, won’t be competing in his first-ever Worlds on Sunday as his visa wasn’t approved either. Really?

There are plenty of others as the BBC said there are roughly 100 athletes, coaches, and officials still without visas.

1.5) Athletes need to be told they can get into the stadium to watch their countrymen compete

While I haven’t been to the track, I have been to the grocery store and while there this morning bumped into a US distance runner who casually mentioned they weren’t allowed to watch the meet without buying tickets.

She said it was also true at the Olympic Trials last year. At the Trials, she had to buy a ticket to watch the other events on the actual day she competed. What a joke. (Especially since the Trials didn’t have a lot of fans).

I figured she must be wrong so I called a top agent. He said it’s true. 

I reached out to World Athletics and the Eugene 2022 organizers and asked them if athletes had to pay to get into the stadium. They said that is not the case. They said a credential gets everyone into the stadium, but it does not guarantee them a seat. Each federation then gets an allocation of seats that they can distribute how they want. 

Priority for these seats should be given to athletes, and Team USA athletes need to know they are available. An athlete on Team USA should not have to be buying a ticket for the World Champs (or any other meet they are competing at).

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