In a disappointing turn of events for the promising wushu athletes of Arunachal Pradesh, their dreams of representing India at the 2023 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, have been dashed due to visa complications. These talented athletes, who have dedicated years to honing their skills, find themselves entangled in a bureaucratic web that threatens to overshadow their hard work and commitment.
The Wushu Aspirants:
The three female athletes, Nyeman Wangsu, Onilu Tega, and Mepung Lamgu, successfully obtained their accreditation cards from the Hangzhou Asian Games Organising Committee (HAGOC), which also serves as their entry visa. Subsequently, athletes are required to complete the process by downloading their travel documents, which are then validated upon their arrival.
However, on the scheduled day of departure for the Asian Games, the three Arunachal Pradesh athletes encountered an issue—they were unable to download their travel documents. In contrast, the remaining members of the wushu squad, consisting of a total of 10 players, as well as the coaching staff, encountered no such difficulties. Consequently, they proceeded with their travel plans, departing for Hong Kong on Wednesday night, where they had a connecting flight to Hangzhou.
The northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh has been nurturing a pool of exceptionally talented wushu players, who have consistently proven their mettle on national and international stages. These athletes had been preparing tirelessly, both mentally and physically, to compete at the prestigious Asian Games, a pinnacle of sporting achievement for any athlete.
The Asian Games represented not only an opportunity to showcase their skills but also a chance to inspire the younger generation in Arunachal Pradesh to take up wushu. The disappointment of not being able to participate in this international event is a crushing blow to their dreams.
The situation has garnered national attention, with sports authorities and fellow athletes expressing their solidarity with the Arunachal Pradesh wushu contingent. The Wushu Association of India has been actively pursuing the matter, engaging in diplomatic channels to seek a resolution. India’s Ministry of External Affairs has also been approached to intervene and facilitate the issuance of visas for the athletes. Union Sports Minister Anurag Thakur decided to cancel his scheduled visit to the Asian Games on Friday due to China’s refusal to grant entry to Indian Wushu athletes from Arunachal Pradesh. Simultaneously, the government lodged an official protest this decision.
This unfortunate episode underlines the complexities that often shadow the world of international sports. The intersection of politics, diplomacy, and sports can have profound consequences for athletes who, in most cases, are driven solely by their passion for their chosen discipline. It is a reminder that athletes, regardless of their backgrounds or nationalities, should not become pawns in larger geopolitical games.
The visa complications have left the athletes and their coaches devastated and frustrated. The players had submitted all necessary documents, and their participation was backed by the Wushu Association of India. Despite having “stapled visas”, the athletes were unable to board the flight.
In addition to the broader diplomatic tensions, another factor adding complexity to India-China relations is the issuance of stapled visas by China. This practice has been a recurring issue, particularly in areas like Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. Stapled visas, as employed by China, are a symbolic gesture of their territorial claims, effectively implying that these regions are disputed territories rather than integral parts of India. This practice has not only aggravated diplomatic tensions but has also had implications for athletes and citizens from these regions, who often face uncertainty and discrimination when travelling to China for sports events or other purposes. It is within this backdrop of stapled visas, territorial disputes, and political sensitivities that the denial of visas to the Arunachal Pradesh wushu athletes must be understood, underscoring the intricacies that permeate even the world of sports. This practice has been a source of diplomatic tension between India and China, as it challenges India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
A stapled visa is a type of visa issued by a country that signifies a unique and often contentious diplomatic stance. When China issues stapled visas to Indian citizens or residents of specific regions, such as Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, it symbolises China’s refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of the individual’s travel documents. Instead of attaching the visa directly to the passport, Chinese authorities affix it separately using a staple or another form of attachment.
By issuing stapled visas in these contexts, China sends a clear message that it does not recognize the regions in question as part of India. This stance exacerbates existing political disputes and complicates diplomatic relations between the two countries. It also creates practical challenges for individuals travelling to China, as they may face uncertainty, delays, or discrimination due to the stapled visa, hindering their ability to engage in various activities, including sports events, trade, and cultural exchanges.
The Diplomatic Angle:
The denial of visas to these young athletes has not only disrupted their aspirations but has also created a diplomatic conundrum. It highlights the ongoing sensitivities in the India-China relationship, which often spill over into the realm of sports.
The denial of visas to the Arunachal Pradesh wushu athletes cannot be viewed in isolation but must be understood within the broader context of the India-China relationship, which has witnessed significant tensions over the past few years. These diplomatic complexities have occasionally spilled over into various domains, including trade, territory, and sports.
One of the key issues that have strained India-China relations is the longstanding border dispute. The Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Himalayan region has been a contentious issue for decades, leading to skirmishes and military standoffs, most notably the deadly clash in the Galwan Valley in 2020. These incidents have created an atmosphere of distrust and heightened sensitivity between the two nations.
Moreover, India’s stance on the Dalai Lama and Tibet, as well as its concerns over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, have also added to the diplomatic tensions. China’s assertive foreign policy in the South China Sea and its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which India has been cautious about joining, further complicates the relationship. In this climate of heightened diplomatic tensions, even non-political events like sports can become entangled. The denial of visas to the Arunachal Pradesh wushu athletes can be seen as a reflection of this broader context, where every interaction between the two countries is scrutinised through a political lens.
It’s important to emphasise that sports and politics should ideally remain separate, allowing athletes to compete on a level playing field based on their talent and hard work. However, the reality often differs, as demonstrated by the visa issue faced by these athletes. While the situation remains challenging, it also underscores the need for dialogue and diplomacy to address the underlying issues between India and China. Sports, with its ability to foster goodwill and understanding, can serve as a bridge between nations. It is hoped that the diplomatic efforts to resolve this visa matter will succeed, allowing the Arunachal Pradesh wushu athletes to participate in the Asian Games and demonstrate the power of sports to transcend political differences.
Hope for a Resolution:
While the situation seems bleak at the moment, there remains a glimmer of hope that a resolution can be reached. It is imperative that the concerned authorities, both in India and China, recognize the aspirations of these athletes and the role of sports in promoting harmony and understanding between nations.
When athletes from different countries compete on the field or court, they are bound by a common set of rules and a shared pursuit of excellence. In these moments, political ideologies and diplomatic tensions take a backseat to the universal language of competition, respect, and fair play. Sporting events like the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup, and the Asian Games provide a platform where athletes and spectators can come together, celebrating diversity and fostering mutual understanding. They remind us that regardless of our nationalities or backgrounds, we can find common ground through sports, promoting goodwill, friendship, and peace beyond the confines of politics.
The plight of Arunachal Pradesh’s wushu athletes serves as a poignant reminder of the challenges that athletes face beyond the arena. These young men and women deserve the opportunity to compete on an international stage, representing not just themselves but also their state and their country. The denial of visas not only deprives them of this chance but also dampens the spirit of sportsmanship and camaraderie that international competitions like the Asian Games epitomise.
As sports enthusiasts and citizens, it is our hope that a swift and positive resolution is achieved, allowing these talented athletes to pursue their dreams and inspiring generations to come. The Asian Games should be a platform for unity, not division, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that sport transcends borders and politics for the betterment of all.