THE four national squash players arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on Sunday, all eager to board a flight to Egypt to compete in the El Gouna International championships on May 20-28.
To their shock, when they reached the final checkpoint at KLIA, Ivan Yuen, Low Wee Wern, Rachel Arnold and Aifa Azman were told that they couldn't take the flight to Cairo as they haven't been vaccinated.
The irony is that many of Malaysia's national athletes have received Covid vaccination.
But it's not just only Covid-19. Egypt is concerned about polio too.
It turned out that Egypt had issued a new directive on March 25 that all visitors from Malaysia require a polio vaccination that is valid for at least four weeks to a maximum of 12 months, prior to arrival.
As a result, the four hugely disappointed Malaysian players were forced to withdraw from the El Gouna competition.
Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia (SRAM) director Major (rtd) S. Maniam expressed his disappointment on behalf of the players, and he believed that it was a lesson to be learned.
"I think no one was really aware that Egypt had issued a directive that visitors from Malaysia needed a polio vaccination prior to arrival," said Maniam yesterday,
"And it really caught us all by surprise as Egypt is a country that we have been regularly visiting over the years for tournaments, and this rule was never required previously.
"It is a new directive that only came into effect on March 25, and there were no red flags as we were able to purchase flight tickets and got travel approvals for the players.
"The players were already at the airport when they were asked by immigration to provide proof of polio vaccination which they couldn't.
"I believe it came down to a lack of information being circulated widely and sufficiently as even the Professional Squash Association (PSA) and the El Gouna organisers were unaware of this latest ruling.
"I feel very sorry for the players and they are right to be devastated and demoralised for being unable to travel because of this.
"But we can only prepare ourselves better for the future and this episode has certainly taught us that we'll need to do extra checks for tournaments.
"I hope that everyone should also be aware of such requirements, going forward."
The airport heartbreak is indeed a huge blow to the four players who were eagerly looking forward to their first overseas competition in 18 months.
"Now we have to go back to the drawing board and see what else is on the calendar before the World Championships in July," added Maniam.
There will, however, still be Malaysian interest in the El Gouna meet as men's national No. 1 Ng Eain Yow and women's national No. 2 S. Sivasangari are down to compete.
World No. 27 Eain Yow will travel from his base in Bristol, England while Sivasangari will arrive from New York.