Back in the days of apartheid, the South African authorities seemed keen to attract international sportsmen to the country, with tours by the likes of the British Lions and rebel international cricket teams allowing the country to claim that despite trade sanctions, it was sporting business as usual.
Despite those days being a distant memory, it seems that now even seven-times Tour de France winners can’t expect to be waved through the immigration channel if their papers aren’t quite in order, as Lance Armstrong discovered yesterday.
The Texan Team RadioShack rider arrived at Cape Town airport yesterday ahead of competing in the Cape Argus next Sunday, the world’s biggest mass participation bike ride.
However, the 38-year-old was initially denied entry to the country due to his passport being full, meaning that there was no space for immigration officials to stamp his entry visa.
Armstrong wasn’t slow in alerting his 2.5 million followers on the social networking site Twitter aware of the problems he was having with red tape, tweeting: “Well, made it to Cape Town but can't get in the country since my passport is full and there's no room to stamp it. So...stuck.”
Shortly afterwards, he added: “Well, made it in to SA. Not the friendliest welcome I've ever received but we've all seen immigration officers like that.”
One local who took exception to Armstrong’s reaction to being barred from entering the country while the problem was sorted out was local radio talk show host Aki Anastasiou, who used his blog to tell the Texan “you owe all South Africans an apology after your posts on Twitter.”
Anastasiou continued: “Your passport was not up to date, and you clearly did not have sufficient empty pages available for a stamp from South African Immigration. These rules apply all over the world and are not unique in any way to South Africa.”
But the South African reserved his biggest criticism for his compatriots who had tweeted in support of Armstrong with comments such as “SA customs you're getting a bad rep. Sort it out we have a World Cup remember” and “well done immigration you wankers.”
The cyclist seems to have put his immigration woes behind him and is settling down to enjoy the country, going on a ride this morning with South African RadioShack team mate Daryl Impey and Greg James of local sports and education charity JAG, which Armstrong is helping to promote during his visit to the country.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.