By | | English, Top Stories

After an eventful week where Yupun Abeykoon and his team had to undergo a series of hassles to get a US visa to compete at the World Athletics Championships, the team finally left for the US last afternoon and Yupun will have less than 48 hours to prepare for the men’s 100m.

The Championships starts in Eugene on the 14th and the 100m is scheduled on the 15th.

To begin with, it’s not Yupun’s or his coach’s responsibility to make travel arrangements to represent the country at the World Athletics Championships. That responsibility is with
Sri Lanka Athletics, the governing body of athletics in Sri Lanka. To top that, Yupun is ranked 22nd in the world in the 100m this year with the 15th fastest time (9.96 seconds), and is the fastest in Asia.

All Yupun wanted was to prepare and be at his best for the World Championships, but his coach Claudio Liccardello, in an interview with Ceylon Athletics, revealed that the SL authorities completely compromised his preparation.

“Yupun is a champion; he will never give up and will do his best. But as coach I must say they compromised everything; his mentality and preparation,” said Liccardello on Monday evening when they finally got the visa after a hassle.

As the coach explained, Yupun was well within qualification ranking for the World Athletics Championships by 31 May, yet they had not received a single instruction regarding visa, tickets, and accommodation for weeks. Coach Liccardello, who always tries his best to keep his athletes stress free, had emailed Sri Lanka Athletics on 24 June seeking a reply regarding travel arrangements and visa, and had got no reply.

After finishing 4th at the Stockholm Diamond League, Yupun had received instructions stating that he himself had to apply for the USA visa. A baffled Yupun, with the help of a friend, had gone through a complex procedure to apply and pay for the visa, since the Association did not provide consultation or arranged a travel agent, a system followed by many to avoid complications for elite athletes.

A week past the last email, on 1 July, Coach Liccardello had emailed the Association once again, and still not got any reply regarding tickets and accommodation, which the Coach mentioned was vital to plan his final two weeks of training ahead of the World Championships. This lapse made him furious, but with an important race coming up on
2 July, the Coach had not upset Yupun, and he became the first South Asian runner to go sub 10.

“Final week, Yupun was always on the phone or in front of a computer, worrying about visa, worrying about travel, which wasn’t what I needed for him going into an important competition,” said Liccardello, who further explained that maybe the Association is unaware about work that goes on behind the scenes to produce a sub 10 seconds runner in the 100m, and how much goes in and how important planning and preparation are.

After much delay, Yupun’s team had received tickets to fly on Friday (8). They had scheduled their last training session to make final preparations before flying to the USA on the same day but Poor Yupun had no idea that a visa appointment was updated on the same visa account of US Immigration he applied for when he was waiting for a call or email.

By then the Association had no other option but to channel diplomatic help through the Foreign Ministry, as the other two athletes (Gayanthika Abeyrathne and Nilani Rathnayaka), too, were experiencing the same fate. Yupun was informed that he had missed his appointment at the Sri Lanka Embassy in Rome, and after apologising, got another appointment only on Monday. The Association had guaranteed he will get his visa, although the US Embassy had informed them that it’s not certain and might take up to two weeks, and warned him not to involve SL authorities to influence the process, as SL Foreign Ministry had tried to get involved in sorting out the situation.

On Monday (12), Yupun had got the visa, but then faced another baffling situation when they found out that the Sports Ministry had not really paid for the tickets given to them to fly on Tuesday morning to the USA and the Ministry’s tentative reservation had expired.

Finally, on Monday night they received tickets to fly on Tuesday afternoon.

“We will arrive with less than two days to go for the World Championships, and one day will be just jet lag. I don’t know what goes through his (Yupun’s) mind as it’s very hard for an elite athlete. Association is not just professional enough. I have been training him to change his body bio clock as he has to adjust to the time difference. His sleeping pattern and training time has been adjusted, but all those things will go in vain with the hassle during the last few days,” said the Coach.

“I have been Yupun’s coach for 3 years. He ran 10.16 three years ago and has been a top athlete since then, but no one from Sri Lanka contacted me to ask what he needs, and I only needed this for him. It’s a shame that they didn’t consider the importance of training,” added a disappointed Coach.

Claudio Liccardello himself is an Olympian, and competed in the 400m for Italy at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He has two other athletes training under him in the World Championships team for Italy, but chose to represent Sri Lanka with Yupun instead of the Italian team.

“For the 100m runner in the Italian team the association got his passport and just sent him the tickets. No hassle at all other than focusing on producing a good run,” said Liccardello.

Meanwhile, World Athletics visa system is also baffling, as they close qualification just two weeks prior to the World Championships, then another two days to adjust withdrawal from other countries, and then send invitation letters expecting countries like Sri Lanka to sort out visas within 10-days, though in Yupun’s case it was clear that he qualified two months prior to the World Championships.

Please contact Athletics Association of Sri Lanka for more information via +94112 682329/ +94112676163/ +94112676162 or
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