India has withdrawn its entire wushu (martial art) team from the World University Games which begins on Friday, 28 July, in Chengdu as a mark of protest against China's decision to issue stapled visas — instead of stamped ones — to three athletes from Arunachal Pradesh.
The decision came hours after airport authorities in New Delhi stopped an eight-member contingent, comprising five athletes, a coach and two support staff, at the boarding gate minutes before departure Thursday midnight, according to coach Raghvendra Singh.
Singh told The Indian Express that they were stopped at the gate by immigration officials and CISF personnel. "They did not give any reason and claimed they were merely acting on the government’s instructions,” he added.
The group that was not allowed to board did not, however, include athletes from Arunachal Pradesh, who were scheduled to take a 1.05 am flight on Friday, 28 July, Singh said.
'China's Decision Unacceptable'
Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, called the Chinese decision “unacceptable”, adding that “India reserves the right to suitably respond to such actions”.
“It has come to our notice that stapled visas were issued to some of our citizens representing the country in an international sporting event in China. This is unacceptable and we have lodged our strong protest with the Chinese side, reiterating our consistent position on the matter,” he said.
An official of the Wushu Federation of India told The Indian Express that the athletes applied for visas on 16 July. While the applications of the rest of the team were processed on time, the documents of the three Arunachal athletes (Onilu Tega, Nyeman Wangsu, and Mepung Lamgu) were not accepted.
They were asked to resubmit their applications on Tuesday, 25 July, and the Chinese embassy returned their passports with stapled visas on Wednesday afternoon.
The government, which was informed about the decision, put the team’s participation on hold before ultimately deciding that India will not take part in the competition. Stapled visas are meant to indicate that China does not recognise India’s sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh.
In the past as well, the country has refused visas to athletes from Arunachal Pradesh or issued stapled visas, effectively barring their travel.
In 2011, the Chinese embassy issued stapled visas to five karate players from Arunachal Pradesh for a championship in Quanghou. In 2013, two archers, Sprang Yumi and Maselo Mihu, were stopped from participating in the Youth World Archery Championship for the same reason.