2016 Bajana Marathon winner Miss Sohna Saho is not going to the United Kingdom to attend the Manchester Half-Marathon scheduled for the 16th of October 2016 despite being awarded an air ticket by The Gambia Tourism Board (GTBoard), Observer Sports has gathered.

Sona Saho from The Gambia Police Force, was supposed to travel to the UK to represent The Gambia at two international half-marathons in the UK.

The first half-marathon was on the 11th of September – The Great North Run in Gateshead and the Manchester Half-Marathon, which is scheduled for the 16th of October 2016.

When Observer Sports contacted Roy Sanyang, CEO of Gambia Volunteers Trust, the organisers of Bajana Marathon as why Sona Saho missed the opportunity to apply for the UK visa to attend the Manchester Half-Marathon, Roy Sanyang said Gambia Volunteers has paid the UK registration for both the Great North Run and the Manchester Half-Marathon for Sona Saho and registration documents were sent to Sona Saho’s sports administrators at the Gambia Police Force since the 10th of June 2016.

“Invitation letters and relevant documentation including with the regards to accommodation, travel arrangement, sponsorship,   and a letter seeking permission from the IGP for Sona to travel to the UK from the event organisers were sent to Sona’s sports administrators”.

According to him, permission for Sona Saho to travel to the UK was granted by the IGP, but there were many demands from Sona’s sports administrators for all sorts of letters to be submitted to them before they could proceed to the Visa Application. We gladly provided them with all the letters and documentations that they requested.

“Finally after the delaying tactics, Opa Keita, the head coach of Sona Saho was told that there was no money from Gambia Police Force sports department to pay for Sona Saho’s visa fees. By the time we got the information that GPF sports department said there is no money to pay for Sona’s visa application, the dateline for the visa application has already expired,”Sanyang told Observer Sports.

Gambia Volunteers, he went on, has done everything possible to facilitate Sona Saho’s UK trip and a lot of money has been spent on her UK preparations including registration, accommodation and documentation. “We wanted to give Sona Saho the opportunity to compete with other international athletes from Kenya, Ethiopia and the rest of the world in the United Kingdom and to promote The Gambia in the areas of Sports Tourism. This event would put The Gambia and Sona Saho on the world stage as it is an event recognised by IAAF and televised worldwide by BBC television.”

He added: “Gambia Volunteers cannot understand why Visa fees would prevent Sona Saho from attending such an international marathon that would put Gambian athletics on the world stage. We were made to believe that athletes from GPF have a trust account for all athletes who run a marathon in The Gambia or abroad. When they win money, a percentage of that is deducted by the sports department for safe keeping so that in the event they happen to travel abroad they can use that money for visa transactions and others.”

However, Sanyang said The Gambia Armed Forces has paid the visa fees for Lebage Sanneh to attend the Manchester Half Marathon in October after missing out on the The Great North Run in Gateshead held on the 11th September. He therefore thanked GAF for their usual cooperation and taking care of their athletes’ welfare nationally and internationally.

When contacted by Observer Sports, long distance runner Sohna Saho was quite disappointed after missing such opportunity.

“I am disappointed with my sports department for waiting until at the last minute to say there was no money in our account that they can use to pay my visa fee. If they had informed me earlier, I would have tried to get sponsor from other people.”

According to her, she had the same problem last year, forcing her coach Opa Keita to take a personal loan to apply visa for her.

“I am so disappointed because we [athletes] got an account at the Police where 30% of race prize money is deducted to that account,” she testified, adding that the idea of the account was conceived in case of incidents like the one she is going through.

Saho said she has been running for the Police for the past two years and has been encountering similar treatments on several occasions.

As one of the most promising long distance runners, having won many races, the emotional  Sohna Saho said the lack of motivation is dampening her spirit.

by Alieu Ceesay