The Gambia National Olympic Committee yesterday apologised to athletes and the nation for cancelling the country’s participation in the ongoing Commonwealth youth games in Trinidad and Tobago.
The Gambian team got stranded in Dakar, Senegal, without visas or clearance to transit through France and had to return to Banjul.
Yesterday, the GNOC called a press conference and shared the following explanation with the media: “The Gambia National Olympic Committee and Commonwealth Games Association regret to inform the general public that due to systematic failure in the visa application processes, the Gambian delegation to the 7th Commonwealth Youth Games was cancelled on Saturday, 5th August, 2023.
The GNOC/CGA commenced a visa application process to the United Kingdom for the Athletics, Beach Volleyball, and Para-athletics teams on 20th June 2023, based on instructions received from the CGF organising committee.
During the application process, it was confirmed that the visas will be completed within 5 to 15 days. After 10 days of tracking, the GNOC/CGA contacted the president of CGF of Africa to inform her about the delay in receiving the passports and that was when the passports were released.
But by the time the passports arrived the scheduled flight was missed. The GNOC/CGA tried rebooking from London but were advised that there was only one weekly flight to Trinidad. That was when we resorted to going via Air France from Dakar to Panama and Trinidad.
With Air France, the delegation could travel without a transit visa but with an attestation. The CGF Organising committee provided that attestation and Air France gave clearance that they would be allowed to travel. A new booking was made two days after the passports were received and they left for Dakar to take their flight with Air France to travel via Panama. At the check-in, Air France requested another attestation for Panama.
The CGF Organising committee provided that attestation from Copa American Airline but by the time the attestation arrived they missed the flight to Paris.
The delegation spent two days in a hotel to wait for the next available flight. The Copa American Airline sent an email giving clearance to Air France, confirming that the Immigration Department of Panama have cleared the delegation to travel to Trinidad via Panama.
Meanwhile, the GNOC alerted the NOC of Panama who confirmed that the Immigration Department of Panama had given clearance to Air France office in Dakar for the delegation to travel. On departure date (Saturday 5th August), the delegation returned to the airport and were denied boarding the flight by Air France because Panama should have written to them directly, refusing to read the communication that was sent and treated the delegation in a very degrading and humiliating manner.
At this point, the GNOC decided that the delegation returned home. It is regrettable that Gambian athletes go through a lot of problems when they have to travel for sports competitions due to visa application processes, and these Commonwealth Games have presented a clear example of the dilemma athletes face. Moreover, these Games were for Under 18 athletes who trained very hard, only for their hopes to be dashed. The GNOC/CGA would like to apologise to the athletes and their parents for the cancellation of their travel to Trinidad, but this was the best decision taken, because competitions had already started and there was no point continuing on their journey”.