Britain's athletics authorities are stepping up their efforts to enable Cuba's Yamile Aldama, currently the world's leading triple jumper, to compete for them at next year's Athens Olympics.
Speaking after Aldama had equalled the British all-comers' record of 14.98 metres at Birmingham yesterday, Max Jones, the Performance Director for UK Athletics, said that her application for a British passport had reached the office of the Home Secretary.
"We keep pushing down the corridors of power to try to get something moving," Jones said. "We are hoping we can bring things to a head in the next couple of months because the best triple jumper in the world should be in the major championships. It's 50-50 at the moment, but I think we are closer now. It's got to David Blunkett level now, so things are progressing."
Without Home Office intervention, the earliest Aldama can get a passport is 4 November next year, the third anniversary of her marriage to the Scotsman Andrew Dodds, who was jailed for 15 years in May for heroin trafficking.
Already resigned to missing next month's World Championships in Paris, by which time she will be 31, Aldama - who lives and trains in London - stands to remain in limbo during the Olympics. Even if she were to get a British passport in time for Athens she would still need to appeal to the International Olympic Committee's Court of Arbitration for Sport in order to remove the block placed on her by her native country.
"It is crazy," said Aldama, who leads this season's world rankings with 15.29m, the third best in history. "I have no country. I am Cuban, but they do not allow me to compete. I went there to talk to them. I even said I would give them my winnings from the World Championship. I am still waiting for an answer."
Aldama's coach, Frank Attoh, raised the possibility that the International Association of Athletics Federations might allow his athlete to compete in Paris next month under an IAAF banner. There is a precedent for this in the participation of athletes from Yugoslavia under an IOC flag at the 1992 Olympics. However, the IAAF is known to be unwilling to offend the Cuban Athletic Federation by bending the rules for Aldama, particularly as Cuba's athletics head, Alberto Juantorena, is an influential member of the IAAF Council.
Asked if his athlete would consider competing for a country with a more relaxed policy on issuing passports, Attoh replied: "We have heard a lot about it, but no one has approached us."
Having Aldama competing in a British vest would be a huge asset to UK Athletics, whose Lottery funding is dependent upon their record in major championships. But there are those within the sport who question claiming the Cuban, particularly as Britain has a world indoor champion and record holder in Ashia Hansen, who is recovering from injury.
Aldama is attempting to keep her mind on athletics as she recovers from the shock of discovering her husband's criminal activities. Having said she would seek a divorce - which would add another two years to her passport application process - she is now uncertain. "Yamile has a child by her husband, and you can't just not love someone in a few days," Attoh said. Aldama added: "I just want to focus on my jumping and forget about it."
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