World Olympic qualifier-bound wrestlers stranded after Dutch impose travel ban

Indian freestyle wrestlers were denied permission to board a Bulgaria-bound flight on Wednesday.

By Naveen Peter

India’s freestyle wrestlers hoping to seal their Tokyo quota at the World Olympic wrestling qualifiers in Bulgaria were denied permission to board a flight out of New Delhi on Wednesday. 

A 10-member team that included Amit Dhankar (74kg), Satyawart Kadian (97kg), Sumit Malik (125kg), Seema Bisla (50kg), Nisha Dahiya (68kg), Pooja Sihag (76kg) and Deepanshu (Greco-Roman 97kg) were to travel to Sofia via Amsterdam. The qualifiers will be held from May 6 to 9.

But with the Netherlands government imposing a travel ban on India in the wake of the raging COVID-19 crisis in the country, the wrestlers were left stranded at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. 

“Finding tickets is so tough in the current situation. We had booked tickets early this time but then last night KLM (Dutch airline) called us to inform us that the wrestlers won’t be allowed to travel to Amsterdam,” a Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) official told WrestlingTV.

The WFI is working on an alternative plan to see if the grapplers can be accommodated on an Air France flight that plies on the Mumbai-Paris route on Friday. 

The federation is also in constant touch with the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MCA) to find a solution.

Meanwhile, a 17-member Indian contingent — made up of the Greco-Roman wrestlers — left for the World qualifiers via the Mumbai-Paris route on Wednesday morning. 

Also managing to find her way to Europe before the travel ban kicked in was Vinesh Phogat, who along with her coach Woller Akos, are in Bulgaria for a training camp. 

But Bajrang Punia’s plans for international exposure have been struck down after he was denied permission to travel aboard in the wake of the increasing COVID-10 cases in the country.

India, so far, have earned six Olympic quotas with youngsters Sonam Malik and Anshu Malik joining Bajrang Punia, Ravi Kumar Dahiya, Deepak Punia and Vinesh Phogat following their wins at the Asian Olympic wrestling qualifiers.