Omanyala visa hitch: Who's to blame for this mess?

Ferdinand Omanyala

Kenya's sprinter Ferdinand Omanyala trains at the Kasarani stadium in Nairobi on June 30, 2022.

Photo credit: Tony Karumba | AFP

What you need to know:

  • He is due to arrive in Oregon just two-and-half hours before the 100m preliminary round
  • The sprint star was granted a last-minute visa to travel to the United States for the 2022 World Athletics Championships

Kenyans breathed a collective sigh of relief on Thursday after Africa’s fastest man Ferdinand Omanyala was granted a last-minute visa to travel to the United States for the 2022 World Athletics Championships. There was righteous anger, unparalleled anxiety and a general feeling of resentment towards the government in the early hours after sports enthusiasts learnt that the African 100m champion had not been cleared. The dramatic developments pushed many to register their indignation on social media, while others called on the Ministry of Sports to explain the circumstances under which their track hero had been left out of the travelling party.

“Omanyala was called to the ministry this morning and was handed the visa to travel. He should be on the flight tonight to arrive in Oregon tomorrow morning,” coach Duncan Ayiemba said.

Omanyala, the third fastest man in the world this season, left the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport aboard a Qatar Airways flight at 6pm. He is due to arrive in Oregon just two-and-half hours before the 100m preliminary round that gets under way at 10.30pm Kenya time.

However, as one of the top ranked athletes this year in the 100m, Omanyala will not take part in the preliminaries. He will field in the heats starting at 4.50am on Saturday. The semi-finals are due on Sunday at 4am followed by the final at 5.50am.

“He will have a few hours to rest before he competes in the 100m heats (Friday), and hopefully qualify for the semi-finals and the finals,” said Mr Ayiemba.

Athletics Kenya (AK) clarified that inconsistencies in questionnaires filled by two members of Team Kenya delayed their visas.

AK executive committee member Barnaba Korir said Omanyala and Team manager Rono Bunei had issues to clarify at the US Embassy before they could be allowed to travel.

Competing interests

Other sources suggested that Omanyala might have been a victim of competing interests at the ministry. Korir said before the national trials on June 24-25, they had two sessions with US Embassy officials where AK had requested for an allocation of 80 visas.

The Americans said there was a heavy backlog but would give athletes and their coaches priority. AK presented the selected team of 46 athletes and 28 officials on June 28 and were called for interviews on June 30.

“They were given some questionnaires and the following day they were called to pick their visas,” Korir said, adding that all the other athletes had their visas ready. “A total of 10 officials, mostly coaches, got their visas.”

He said the rest of the delegation was to be issued with visas later as the embassy cleared the backlog. “Embassy staff were categorical that they would clear athletes first, which they did,” said Korir.

He also said that the issue of late submission and application could not have come up since the embassy was aware of the day of trials as per World Athletics rules.

The Nation, however, understands that Omanyala’s predicament could have been caused by ministry officials, who reportedly submitted his name in a list beyond the capped number in the delegation.

A spokesperson at the US Embassy declined to discuss the specific issue surrounding Omanyala’s woes, but suggested that the application had been submitted late.

“We won’t discuss any specific visa applications but we would normally have an application expedited on a case-by-case basis,” the official said, indicating the problem had to do with late submission.

But as Omanyala’s name had been out of the capped number, it meant those first on the list, including officials with non-core roles, were given priority.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which would normally intervene for those on official duty, suggested that the chaos was at the Sports ministry.

“They know the procedure,” an official told the Nation. “We would normally not intervene for athletes, except where we do not have a resident embassy. The Ministry of Sports documentations are usually sufficient,” he added.

The embassy has had a surge in applications for visas as Covid-19 restrictions loosen.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.