After a long wait for visa at Indian High Commission, ordeal continued after a truncated contingent arrived here

The Union Home Ministry has come under fire from Pakistani sportsmen for “inconveniencing” them soon after they arrived here for an international event.

The travails of the Pakistan cycling team began even at the visa window of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and continued unabated after a truncated and bed-raggled contingent arrived in India.

On Sunday, the team’s bus was stopped by two persons, who looked like policemen, as soon as it left the hotel. For a full 45 minutes, the policemen kept poring over the papers till team manager Rashid Ahmad lost his temper, and the men relented.

Next was a visit by policemen who informed the team that unlike participants from the other two-dozen-odd countries, the Pakistanis would have to report to the police station on a daily basis. They told Pakistan Cycling Federation president Munawar Baseer that the entire team was liable to pay a fine because the members had not reported to a police station for 48 hours.

“Better to arrest us”

“It is better they arrest us and take us to prison. We did not know they will reduce us to this state. If the other Ministries and departments cannot handle the Home Ministry, India should not hold international events. Sportsmen are to be treated without discrimination. They cannot single out sportspeople from one country and harass them,” said Mr. Baseer, who is a well-known entrepreneur and the force behind ensuring funds were available to field a full men’s team and a token representation in the women’s section by a paraplegic teenager.

The teenager, Anam Mehmood, who was to be accompanied by her mother, and two senior cyclists could not make it as they were denied visas. Worse, a coach was also not given visa, making it impossible for the team to take part in one of the two main sections.

Mr. Baseer, a former national champion in cycling, had additional reasons to feel humiliated. He had come to India thrice in the last two years. And never has he had to suffer the ignominy of reporting on a daily basis to the police station.

Although the Asian Cycling Championship started here on March 4 with jersey checks and other formalities, Mr. Baseer’s plan to ensure his country’s full participation was pole-axed by the Home Ministry from the beginning.

Internal rivalry?

Till March 8, the contingent was cooling its heels in Islamabad waiting for a visa. According to South Block sources, part of the delay was caused by a rival federation claiming to be the legitimate federation.

Finally, intervention by Cycling Federation of India president and politician Parminder Singh Dhindsa spurred Home Ministry mandarins in the Islamabad High Commission to inform the team and its managers that the visas were ready.