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Coolie champ wrestles for visa
- Immigrant concerns block trip

Thiruvananthapuram, Nov. 22: Like the South American urchin picking up his soccer skills dribbling on rock-strewn streets, would-be world champion Snibu S. Ravi saw his muscles shaped by years of carrying loads in the bazaar.

Now the 27-year-old market porter is bracing for the heavier weight of disappointment — the Canadian embassy is refusing him visa for next week’s world arm-wrestling championships.

Snibu has received a letter from the Indian Arm Wrestling Federation saying the embassy has rejected the 13-member Indian team’s visa applications, fearing the squad may stay back in Canada as illegal residents.

It’s a stunning blow for the son of a Kochi taxi driver who had added backbreaking practice to his market routine to win the national championship for the past three years.

“I’d start training around 8pm. At times it goes on till midnight. In the morning I have to be in the market, otherwise I’ll miss my wages,” he said, describing his workout for the world championships.

Snibu said he began working in Kochi’s main market, carrying loads on his head, in early adolescence. He took up arm-wrestling about 10 years ago. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have dreamed so high. I should have been content carrying loads rather than go all out for my passion.’

Snibu was to compete in the over-110kg category at the 30th World Arm-wrestling Championships, to be held in Kelowna, British Columbia, from November 29 to December 7. The Indian team had received invites from the Canadian and world arm-wrestling federations and even the mayor of Kelowna.

“We’re seeking all possible help to get us past this hurdle. This is an insult to the nation. But it also breaks the heart of a poor young man who had sweated all these months,” said Snibu’s coach Mukundan.

He added: “Kerala sports minister M. Vijayakumar has agreed to do whatever is possible. But time is running out; he must fly out by November 27 at the latest.”

This is not the first time Snibu thought his dream was over. A few weeks ago he had lost all hopes of raising the Rs 2 lakh needed for the trip.

Sports bodies, even the state sports council, had turned him away because arm-wrestling is not recognised by the Indian Olympic Association.

However, a newspaper carried his story and promises of help poured in, and a buoyed Snibu plunged himself into practice. The Jaypee group is sponsoring him, Mukundan said.

Snibu’s daily wage of Rs 220 takes care of his ailing mother’s treatment. A chunk goes into the son’s protein-rich, high-calorie diet.

He has often thought of quitting but his friends and relatives wouldn’t let him. And sometimes help would arrive all of a sudden.

Even this time he is hoping for a last-minute miracle since the matter has been taken up with junior foreign minister E. Ahamed.

“He is in terrific form. I’m sure that given an opportunity, Snibu will do the country proud,” Mukundan said.

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