18.06.2003 Sports News

Travel chaos delays Ghana athletes

By The Irish Examiner
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THE host town which closed its doors to Special Olympics athletes from Hong Kong is now pulling out all the stops to try to get its new delegation into the town.

Officials from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, are desperately trying to sort out travel chaos endured by the delegation from Ghana.

The African athletes had problems with their visas and couldn't travel last weekend as planned. They hope to leave Ghana today for a five-and-a- half hour flight to London Heathrow. But the nightmare doesn't end there.

There's no onward connection to Ireland, leaving the 16 athletes and their nine officials facing the prospect of spending the night at the airport.

"This is not the type of build-up these athletes need," said Clonmel host town committee chairman Joe Walsh. He and his committee are trying to get a connecting onward flight for the Ghana delegates.

As well as being frustrating for the athletes and the supporters, the mix-up over visas has left hoteliers and restaurateurs, as well as volunteers and other supporters, in the lurch.

"We went ahead with our parade but 150 bed nights have gone out the window. So many people, including hoteliers and restaurant owners around this area, had hoped to host the contingent.

"They will be arriving in to us either tonight or tomorrow, exhausted. It's not the preparation they need ahead of the games.

"Children in our schools here are so disappointed. They know the acreage of Ghana, all about their culture and their life.

"They are so interested in them, and they haven't even got to meet them," Mr Walsh added.

The host town committee is furious that red tape and bureaucratic delays could hold up such an important group of athletes.

"They sent off for their visas seven months ago, so it's not a case of a last minute rush or anything. It's nothing short of a disgrace.

"We're just host town committee members but we're doing everything in our power to make sure these athletes are not further upset.

"The host town programme was supposed to be about getting the athletes relaxed. These poor divils will fall off the plane."

The athletes arrive into Heathrow at 6pm today and it is hoped something can be arranged over the next few hours to fly the party to Ireland.

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