Three more Lankan athletes go missing in Europe amid currency crisis

ECONOMYNEXT –Three more Lankan athletes – this time, wrestlers attending the Under 23 World Wrestling Championship in Spain – have gone missing, sports officials said.Two members of the all-male six-member team had disappeared on October 22, followed by the third sportsman the next day, an official for Sri Lanka Wrestling Federation said, requesting anonymity.

This is the latest in a series of disappearing acts pulled by Sri Lankan athletes in Europe. Previously, nine athletes and one official went missing during the Commonwealth Games 2022 in early August.In an interesting twist, however, this time, the Spanish authorities appeared largely unconcerned about the missing Sri Lankans, according to the wrestling official.

Sri Lanka is going through its worst currency crisis in decades, and runaway inflation and a host of other issues are compelling young Sri Lankan men and women to find better prospects abroad, legally or otherwise.Investigations into this Spanish vanishing act are underway, regardless, and Sri Lankan officials plan to talk to the families of the missing wrestlers in the coming days in the hope of establishing contact and making sure that they are still in Spain.

Wrestling Federation officials that went to Spain with the team had alerted Spanish authorities the moment they went missing.

“They had visas till October 25, 2022,” the official said.

Passports of two of the players are still with the officials, who customarily hold onto athletes’ passports, but the other athlete’s passport is nowhere to be found.

“We suspect the passport was taken from the official personnel bag before deserting the team,” the official said.

Athletes are permitted to carry their passport on their person into the stadium for any legal clearance that may be needed when athletes are weighed before a tournament.Spanish authorities did not show much interest in finding the deserters, the official claimed.

“We informed the police immediately, but they said the missing players can take refuge in the country and may be able to find jobs as long as they are not involved in any criminal activity,” the official said.

“The players sign a bond before they’re to tournaments abroad. If they are unable to contact us through their parents or families, legal action can be taken against them.”

“When permission is given to these athletes we get the recommendations from a few places, such as the federation of the relevant sport, the Sports Selection Committee and the Sports Council,” I P Wijeratne, Director of Sports, Sport Development Department, told EconomyNext on Thursday October 27.

“I think a thorough background check must be done even when selecting the players in order to minimise this issue,” he said. Since the disappearance of the three wrestlers, the Sports Ministry has stopped all outbound sports tours for the time being.

“More attention should be given to this matter by the committees,” said Wijeratne, adding that recently it was discovered that that powerlifters had been selected for an upcoming sumo wrestling tournament, which was later cancelled.

“These sort of issues can harm the selection process, and it can cost an opportunity to athletes that genuinely represent the country and want to win.”

Asked about the progress into investigations over the athletes that went missing at the Commonwealth Games, Wijeratne said the Sport Development Department has yet to receive any information on the whereabouts of the missing athletes.

“The Sports Offences Prevention Unit has been tasked with compiling a report on the matter,” he said.

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