The British athlete Chris Thompson has said he is “absolutely devastated” after becoming a victim of the huge visa problems that have cast a cloud over the first World Athletics Championships in the US.
The hugely popular 41-year-old was due to compete in the men’s marathon in Eugene on Sunday but was forced to pull out less than 48 hours beforehand because of significant delays in the processing of his US visa.
World Athletics said 374 visa cases involving athletes or officials have now been flagged to them – with just under 100 still unresolved.
UK Athletics confirmed it had been in close contact with World Athletics and had even enlisted the help of the British government to solve a last-minute hold up but “time had run out”.
“I’m absolutely devastated I won’t be in Eugene to compete,” said Thompson. “This was my major aim for the year and I had prepared well for it. I’ll never know what might have been but I had high expectations of myself. It should never have got to this point and it’s hard to believe it has.
“However, I’m very grateful to my close network of family, friends, colleagues and officials who supported and rallied for me, to try to amend the situation.”
The team leader, Paula Dunn, expressed her support for Thompson, adding: “We are gutted that Chris will miss the worlds as he has worked incredibly hard to be in a position to race here.”
Hundreds of others have found themselves in a similar position, with the Kenyan sprinter Ferdinand Omanyala – who has run the third fastest 100m time this year – only expected to arrive in Eugene hours before Friday evening’s heat.
The issue appears to stem from huge backlogs at US embassies, where athletes must schedule an appointment and interview in order to obtain a temporary visa.
However, organisers have also been criticised by the BBC commentator Michael Johnson for failing to do more. “This is ridiculous!” the multiple Olympic and world champion tweeted. “It is known that a US entry visa may be one of the most difficult and WA [World Athletics] and the organizing committee didn’t get ahead of this?”
Sebastian Coe, the president of World Athletics, admitted the issue was a cause for concern and more athletes could miss out. “The one thing which is clear to me as we battle to do as much as we possibly can is it is complicated,” Lord Coe said. “In relative percentage terms it’s a small number but it’s of no comfort if you are in that category. We will work right up to the last minute but will we be able to resolve all those issues in time for the start of competition? No, we won’t.”