No UK visa for Afghanistan's taekwondo star

AP, Saturday 1 Oct 2011

Taekwondo stars usually have no problem kicking their way out of a problem _ except when it comes to getting a visa

Rohullah Nikpai
Afghanistan's fighter Rohullah Nikpai

Afghanistan's fighter Rohullah Nikpai, who won his country's first Olympic medal at the 2008 Beijing Games, failed to get permission to visit Manchester for the ongoing British Open.

Tournament organizers said Nikpai and his Afghani team didn't get visas in time to compete despite lobbying the U.K. Border Agency on their behalf. But officials said the application wasn't made until last week, making a quick approval difficult.

After winning bronze medals at the Beijing Games and this year's world taekwondo championships, Nikpai had been in contention for gold at the British Open.

"It's a big shame," said Ian Leafe, who heads the team that organized the British Open. "We offered as much assistance as we could, but there's a limited amount you can do as a sports federation." He said there are no British consular services in Afghanistan, so Nikpai and his team had to travel to Pakistan to apply for a visa.

"It's a loss," said Ruebyn Richards, a fighter on Britain's national team. "At the end of the day, you don't want an easy route to the final. You want to have earned it." Nikpai's absence at the tournament may raise questions about potential visa problems for other athletes ahead of the London 2012 Olympics.

Visas for the Iranian taekwondo team _ which includes several world champions _ came through only hours before the fighters were due to fly to Manchester.

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