Indian snowshoe racers ‘devastated’ by U.S. visa denial
Athletes connected with Paul Smith’s College racers last year
SARANAC LAKE — Indian snowshoers Abid Khan and Tanveer Hussain dreamed of traveling here to compete in the World Snowshoe Championships later this month.
It would have been the first trip to the U.S. for the two men, who took up snowshoeing about three years ago in the Himalaya mountains, where they live, and competed in their first world championships last year in Italy.
Now, however, their trip here is on hold, maybe for good. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India, denied Khan and Hussain U.S. visas Tuesday, reportedly citing the reason as “current policy” — possibly the travel ban President Donald Trump issued Friday.
“We are devastated with this as we had (a) dream to see ourselves taking part in USA Saranac Lake championship,” Khan told the Enterprise Tuesday in a Facebook chat.
Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau said he’s reached out to New York’s U.S. senators, Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, for help.
“Both said they would contact the New Delhi embassy (Wednesday) to find out the reason for the declination,” Rabideau wrote in an email.
He also said the office of northern New York’s U.S. representative, Elise Stefanik, offered a “congressional inquiry.” Stefanik, like Trump, is a Republican. Schumer and Gillibrand are Democrats.
The Feb. 25 World Snowshoe Championships will feature 5- and 10-kilometer races on a course that runs from the Harrietstown Town Hall to Dewey Mountain Recreation Center and back. More than 210 athletes from the U.S., Canada and other countries are registered for the event.
Khan and Hussain are part of a group of about a half-dozen athletes and coaches from the nascent Snowshoe Federation of India who were planning to come, but Khan said they were the only two who were ultimately able to go. The others had to drop out due to sponsorship and other issues, he said.
On Tuesday, Khan and Hussain traveled more than 500 miles to the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi from their homes in the Srinagar District, located in India’s northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. They had filled out visa applications online and scheduled an in-person interview. Khan said they brought all the necessary and supporting paperwork with them, including invitation letters from Rabideau and the World Snowshoe Federation, and a support letter from their state’s Department of Tourism.
“The lady officer didn’t counter question any of the supporting docs or our credentials,” Khan wrote. “Then after a while I told the lady Tanveer is famous athlete in our part of world. In support, I showed her a folder filled with press clippings. She took clippings inside and told us to wait at counter.”
After few minutes, the embassy officer came back and said, according to Khan, “Sorry, due to our current policy we can’t issue you a visa.”
“There was no counter question allowed as she called for next person (at the) counter,” Khan said.
Trump issued an executive order Friday suspending the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days and instituting a 90-day ban on all entry to the United States from citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The order also halts entry to the U.S. by Syrian refugees indefinitely.
It’s unclear why Khan and Hussain were denied visas, given that India isn’t included in the ban, although the area where they live is about 90 percent Muslim, according to Khan. He said they weren’t really aware of Trump’s order at the time, but after their visas were rejected, they heard about it from other people at the embassy.
“A blanket ban is wrong,” Khan said. “We are athletes and have nothing to do with violence. Violence in any form is wrong. We are peace loving persons and want to spend our life playing, enjoying and in harmony.”
Asked what people think of Trump where he lives, Khan said the president is a “hot topic but not very popular.”
“Even in India people generally think he should have taken his time in implementing any severe decision,” he said. “These crucial decision are (usually) done after major thought, not in haste and for showing your authority. This is not politics, this is one man showing his attitude and power.”
Snowshoeing is a relatively new sport in Jammu and Kashmir. Khan, who works as a sports journalist, said tourism officials are promoting it because it can be done by anyone and doesn’t require special skills like skiing does. It’s also proven to be a popular winter sport among marathon runners like Hussain, who works for a bank.
“We had athletes here who were doing pretty good in marathons,” Khan said. “Before doing snowsho(e)ing we were doing snow running without snowshoes (for the) last five years.”
Gulmarg, a resort town in the western Himalayas, hosted its first championship snowshoe event in April of last year. This year’s took place in January. Only eight pair of snowshoes were available for the two dozen athletes to use, but the Snowshoe Federation of India is planning to acquire more.
“We were introduced to snowshoe in 2015 and in 2016 India (was) able to take part in world snowshoe championship for first time in Italy,” Khan said.
Paul Smith’s College link
It was at those championships last year that Khan, Hussain and other Indian snowshoers met a contingent from Saranac Lake, including Rabideau, Paul Smith’s College snowshoe coach Jim Tucker and members of his team. Some of the athletes trained together, traded uniforms and formed friendships.
“They’re all inter-linked through Facebook, and they’re all messaging each other today,” Tucker said. “I can tell by Facebook that they’re upset that their friends are being denied access.”
Tucker said not having these international athletes here to compete is unfortunate.
“For most people in the Adirondacks, I think India is ‘out of sight, out of mind,'” he said. “I think it could have provided an opportunity for cultural enrichment for our local community.”
For now, Khan said he and Hussain are holding out hope that village officials might be able to work their connections in Washington. In the last 24 hours, their plight has also been picked up by the news media in India.
“Let’s hope we get a call from (the) embassy,” Khan said.