If Australian and New Zealand fans thought they were facing problems in obtaining visas for the World Cup in the West Indies, then they should spare a thought for their Pakistani counterparts. Anyone from Pakistan will have to apply to an embassy in India, a country with which relations are notoriously fragile, for visas to travel to the Caribbean.
According to Caricom guidelines, fans from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan must send their passports to the Trinidad and Tobago embassy in New Delhi, the Indian capital, to obtain special visas for all nine countries hosting the games of the March 13 to April 28 event. The exercise, for obvious reasons, is fraught with risk.
But negotiations are underway between the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) and the Pakistani foreign office to get the visas issued in Pakistan instead. Ahsan Malik, PCB spokesman, told AFP, "There is a precedent that special visa arrangements were made for fans in the past."
Citizens from the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland and South Africa are exempt from the visa requirement but supporters from major cricketing countries like India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka are not.
Malik said the PCB had received formal requests from organisations, travel agents and supporters to arrange a visa facility in Pakistan. "Previously the British High Commission used to issue Caribbean visas but now there is no such arrangement. The PCB is hopeful that very soon we have a temporary authority for issuing World Cup visas in Pakistan," he said.
The PCB was also seeking help from the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), Malik added. "Nasim Ashraf, the PCB chairman, has talked to the WICB chairman Kenneth Gordon, who has promised to help as he knows Pakistan is a cricket-loving country and a lot of people would like to see the World Cup matches," he said.
Travel agencies called on the government to intervene. "The government needs to get involved in the World Cup visa scheme -- only then can travel agencies launch cup packages for the fans," said Tahir Rajput, spokesman for the Travel Agents' Association of Pakistan. "Whether travel is inbound or outbound it helps generating revenues. Cricket is a craze here and a lot of people want to travel to the Caribbean," said Rajput.
Preparations for the event have already been overshadowed by a number of problems fans from Australia and New Zealand are facing in obtaining visas for the Caribbean. The setting up of the visa offices was delayed, New Zealand fans had to apply for visas in Australia and passports had to be posted. Additionally, Caricom imposed a visa charge of US$100, a move widely condemned by fans.