Spain’s Embassy in India denied 21 Indian wrestlers’ visa applications who were to compete in the U-23 World Championships. Only nine of the 21 Indian wrestlers’ visa applications were approved by the Spanish Embassy in India. According to the letter of visa rejection delivered to the 21 players by the Spanish Embassy and signed by the Head of the consular division, “there is a reasonable doubt as to your intention to leave the territory of the Member States before the expiry of the visa”.
In order to compete in the global championships in Pontevedra, which got underway on Monday, India would have to present a much-downsized team. Even though Indian authorities are optimistic that some of the wrestlers may still compete if the decision is changed, Antim Panghal and other major medal contenders for India are now unlikely to compete.
For Indian wrestlers, the U-23 World Championships have always been a comfortable hunting zone. But this time, the country’s finest wrestlers won’t be competing since the Spanish Embassy in this country refused to provide them visas for the competition that will be held in Pontevedra from October 17–23.
There are concerns about “the purpose and conditions of their intended stay,” according to a senior embassy official, in the city in north-west Spain. The Indian team won’t participate in the coveted meet, which draws a field of athletes of the highest calibre, for the first time in the competition’s six-year span.
Shivani Pawar’s historic silver medal in the women’s 50 kg division capped the nation’s most successful performance in the competition since its first edition in 2017. Indian wrestlers won an impressive five medals at the tournament’s 2021 edition in Belgrade.
The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chose a 45-person Indian delegation for the Worlds, which included 30 wrestlers in the men’s and women’s freestyle and Greco-Roman divisions. Women’s 53 kg wrestler Antim Panghal, Sagar Jaglan, the men’s 74 kg global cadet champion, the women’s 72 kg Asian cadet bronze medalist Reetika Hooda, and the women’s 65 kg junior Worlds silver medalist Bhateri were some of the top names.
The Schengen visa applications were filed to the embassy on October 4 in the “regular” category, according to WFI’s assistant secretary Vinod Tomar, and the tickets were reserved in accordance with their scheduled departure on October 16. Even though nine wrestlers had already departed for the event, the embassy warned them that their visa applications had been cancelled because they could overstay their time in Pontevedra. Antim’s visa application was shared by the WFI; he was refused a visa for a petty reason.
“The Embassy of Spain in New Delhi has examined your application and the visa has been refused. The decision is based on the following reasons: the information submitted regarding the justification for the purpose and conditions of the intended stay was not reliable. There are reasonable doubts as to your intention to leave the territory of the Member State before the expiry of the visa,” stated Helena Escorial López, Head of the Consular Section at the Spanish Embassy in India, who signed the application.
In an interview with TOI, Tomar said that the embassy had requested that they apply for visas while using the “premium lounge services,” which would have made the entire journey “abnormally expensive”.
Tomar said, “This is nothing but high-handedness on the part of the embassy. We will not send our wrestling teams to Spain ever in the future. We will be writing to the United World Wrestling (wrestling’s world governing body), requesting them not to grant any major international tournament to the Spanish wrestling federation. We will lodge an official complaint with the UWW for the embarrassment the Indian wrestlers have been made to go through.”
He added, “They wanted us to apply through their premium lounge services. But why should we? This is not the first time that the Indian team is travelling on a Schengen visa. There are several wrestlers in the U23 Worlds-bound team with multiple Schengen visas. Why have they not been allowed for the tournament? The embassy doubted our wrestlers’ intention that they might overstay and not return from Spain. This is a joke. Had this been the case, they wouldn’t have come back on earlier occasions as well.”
Only nine wrestlers, according to Tomar, have gone to the World Championship without any members of the coaching or support staff, out of the 45-member group. “Aman Sehrawat (men’s 57 kg), Ankush Panghal (women’s 50 kg) and Mansi Ahlawat (women’s 59 kg) and six Greco-roman wrestlers will take part. The rest will miss out on a great opportunity to become world champions,” he concluded.