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Visa problems hit Prefontaine Classic – official

Russian hurdler Sergey Shubenkov was prevented from competing in the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League meeting because of visa problems © AFP/File / Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV

EUGENE, United States, May 27Russian hurdler Sergey Shubenkov is among around 10 athletes who have been prevented from competing in this weekend’s Prefontaine Classic Diamond League meeting because of visa problems, race officials said Friday.

Tom Jordan, director of the prestigious two-day meeting at Eugene, said 2015 110m hurdles world champion Shubenkov and other athletes, mostly from Africa, had not been granted visas in time to compete in Oregon.

“After many years of not having any problems with visas we had at least 10 athletes who were either turned down or delayed in their visa approval,” Jordan told reporters.

The visa glitches come as the administration of US President Donald Trump is engaged in a sweeping immigration crackdown.

Jordan however declined to say whether he believed the visa problems were directly linked to the Trump administration’s policies.

None of the athletes who have encountered problems were from the countries included in Trump’s controversial travel ban which targets nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

“No one on the meet is on the travel ban,” Jordan said. “That’s not the reason. It’s not a direct Trump thing. But there is something going on.”

Jordan said Shubenkov — who has returned to competition this season after being sidelined by Russia’s ban from athletics last year — had eventually been granted a visa, but only at the 11th hour.

“He was initially told that his visa application would be reviewed — in June,” Jordan said. “So we replaced him.

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“And then yesterday he was given his visa. But to travel halfway around the world to arrive on the night before his event at a meet like this, he obviously did not come.”

Jordan said Prefontaine officials would attempt to seek clarification from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement in order to avoid a repeat in future.

“Certainly we want to do something afterwards to find out what the heck is going on,” he said.

“These are some of the greatest athletes in the world. It’s not like they haven’t applied for a visa before or they haven’t been to the United States.”

Britain’s Oregon-based four-time Olympic champion distance runner Mo Farah, who has been a trenchant critic of Trump’s immigration crackdown, said he had noticed changes when passing through US customs.

Farah said his training partner, Belgium’s Somalia-born Abdi Bashir who competes in the 5,000m in Eugene, had been subjected to greater scrutiny after arriving in the United States.

“Abdi had difficulty getting through,” Farah said. “Normally he goes straight through but he got taken away for interviews. It’s a lot harder.”

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