ICC U19 World Cup: 7 unvaccinated Indian players were denied entry to West Indies and told to return

The COVID-19 outbreak at their camp wasn’t the only off-the-field challenge the Indian team overcame on their way to the U-19 World Championship title.

India’s troubles began upon arrival in the Caribbean islands, when up to seven unvaccinated members of the side were held at the airport for more than 24 hours, forcing the government to step in and resolve the issue.

This was after a long flight from Dubai to Port of Spain via Amsterdam.

Left pacesetter Ravi Kumar, who played a big part in the team’s unprecedented fifth World Cup triumph, and opener Angkrish Raghuvanshi were among the players who were told to “go back to India” as they were not stung.

Team manager Lobzang G. Tenzing, who came to their aid with the help of the ICC and colleagues from the BCCI, described the players’ “harrowing experience”. The governments of India and Trinidad also had to step in to resolve the situation.

“After landing in Port-of-Spain we had to take a charter flight to Guyana but seven of our boys were stopped for not being vaccinated. We tried to explain to the immigration officials that India hadn’t started vaccination yet. They instructed us to take the next flight out of the country,” Tenzing, who runs the Sikkim Cricket Association, told PTI.

“We were surrounded by airline security guards like we were running from there. And as the dispute with the airlines and immigration officials continued, the only available Lufthansa flight had departed and the next was three days later. This gave us time to negotiate with the local authorities.

“I decided to stay with the boys and we had to stay in a shady hotel near the airport for the night. Only after the intervention of the ICC and the local government could the matter be resolved. It was quite a harrowing experience for the guys,” he recalled.

This happened in the first week of January when India launched the vaccination campaign for the 15-18 age group.

In the Caribbean, at the biggest event of their lives, players were heartbroken. It wasn’t just five players, the entire administration team went down with COVID.

The troubles of the Indian contingent in the Caribbean had only just begun and shortly after the jailed players were allowed to join the Guyana team, a COVID outbreak threatened the team’s participation in the tournament.

The squad was without their captain Yash Dhull and alternate Shaik Rasheed for two of the three league games due to COVID-19.

The players who tested positive were only revealed ahead of the second division game against Ireland, but the virus at camp came when the team’s SLO Ravindran returned a positive test during a five-day quarantine in Guyana.

Team boss Tenzing and the logistics manager then got infected and sent the contingent into an administrative crisis.

“It is likely that our SLO caught the virus on the way from Dubai to the Caribbean where we were playing at the Asia Cup. And little by little it spread throughout the camp.

“The RTPCR test results took up to 48 hours and that contributed to the problem,” said the Sikkim cricket boss, who had played the role of troubleshooter.

“Tournament biobubble was a joke, authorities were lethargic”

The ICC organized the event with the help of Cricket West Indies. In a challenging time like this, the Caribbean is not the best place to organize a major event like the U-19 World Cup, said Tenzing.

“It poses additional logistical problems and people were lethargic.”

The Indian side had the most comfortable stay in Antigua, where they played knockout games, and the toughest time in Guyana, where they were quarantined ahead of their opening game against South Africa.

“Our time in Guyana was tough, to say the least. When I and my colleagues were sick with COVID, no medical help was provided, no doctor, no medication. Our team physio came to our rescue. It was like a system failure.

“The hotel we stayed in didn’t have separate floors for teams. We stayed on the same floor as the other hotel guests. There was no one to cope with the isolation period. Rooms did not have regular running water and players faced feeding problems.

“Luckily, a couple of Indian restaurants nearby helped us on that front. During practice matches, the stadium had no water in the washrooms. I can safely say that we, the state entities and the BCCI, do a much better job staging domestic events in a biographically-safe environment,” Tenzing added.

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