NEW DELHI: India’s Sports Minister Anurag Thakur called out China’s discriminatory approach on Sunday after three Indian athletes were denied entry to the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou.
The Asian Games are the continent’s biggest sporting event and are held every four years. The current iteration opened on Saturday after it was due to be held last year but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Three female martial artists from the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh — a disputed region China mostly considered as South Tibet — were unable to travel to the Asian Games, while the rest of their 10-member squad was reportedly able to go ahead as planned.
“As you could see I am not in China. I am in Coimbatore, standing with my players,” Thakur told reporters on Sunday in the south Indian city.
“This discriminatory approach of a country, which is against the Olympic Charter, is not acceptable at all,” he said. “I have canceled my trip to China on these grounds as they have denied the opportunity to the players from Arunachal Pradesh to be a part of the Asian Games.”
India and China share an undemarcated 3,800-km border, which has long been a source of dispute between the two Asian giants. Tensions rose in 2020 when at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed in hand-to-hand fighting in the Galwan area of the Ladakh region. The incident was their worst border clash since 1967.
India lodged a strong protest with China only last month over a new map Beijing had released that showed Arunachal Pradesh as part of its official territory, which it calls South Tibet.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said on Friday that “China welcomes athletes from all countries” to attend the Asian Games, but said Beijing has never recognized Arunachal Pradesh, because the southern Tibetan region is “Chinese territory.”
The three Indian athletes were reportedly given visas stapled to their passports, while the rest of India’s athletes competing at this year’s games were given Asian Games badges that also serve as visas to enter China. The same athletes did not compete at the World University Games in Chengdu, China in July because they were given similar visas.
“The Chinese authorities have, in a targeted and pre-meditated manner, discriminated against some of the Indian sportspersons from the state of Arunachal Pradesh by denying them accreditation and entry to the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China,” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.
India has also lodged a strong protest “against China’s deliberate and selective obstruction of some of our sportspersons,” the ministry said.
“Arunachal Pradesh was, is and will always remain an integral and inalienable part of India.”