Crowdfunding campaign to bring powerlifter Matthew Yap home after visa mix-up strands him and brother in Minsk

Matthew and Marcus Yap send a message from Minsk airport.
Powerlifter Matthew Yap and his brother Marcus missed their flight home from Belarus after being detained following a visa mix-up.
Powerlifter Matthew Yap and his brother Marcus missed their flight home from Belarus after being detained following a visa mix-up.PHOTO: MARCUS YAP
Powerlifter Matthew Yap (left) sleeps at a cafe in Minsk airport while brother Marcus keeps watch on June 22, 2017.
Powerlifter Matthew Yap (left) sleeps at a cafe in Minsk airport while brother Marcus keeps watch on June 22, 2017. PHOTO: MARCUS YAP
Singapore teenager Matthew Yap set a world squat record of 208kg in the men's Under-66kg sub-junior division at the World Classic Powerlifting Championships on June 18, 2017.
Singapore teenager Matthew Yap set a world squat record of 208kg in the men's Under-66kg sub-junior division at the World Classic Powerlifting Championships on June 18, 2017.PHOTO: POWERLIFTING SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - Singaporean powerlifter Matthew Yap was stopped from boarding his flight home from Belarus after breaking a world record at a world lifting championship.

He and his brother Marcus, who is also his coach, were detained in Minsk, Belarus, due to a "visa mix-up", Ms Daphne Loo, the media officer for Powerlifting Singapore, wrote on Give.asia.

She started a crowdfunding campaign to bring the two home as they missed their flight back to Singapore, and have no money to buy new air tickets.

The campaign quickly reached its target hours after Ms Loo started it at about 1am on Thursday (June 22), thanks to one anonymous donor who contributed $2,000. 

Republic Polytechnic student Matthew, 18, set a new world squat record of 208kg in the men's Under-66kg sub-junior division (14-to 18-year-olds) on Sunday at the World Classic Powerlifting Championships. The previous mark was 207.5kg, set by Sweden's Eddie Berglund in Texas last year.

He finished second overall (550.5kg) in the sub-junior category - first in squat, third in bench press (130kg) and sixth in dead lift (212.5kg).

Ms Loo recounted how Matthew and Marcus were stranded in Minsk on the campaign page.

When the brothers arrived in Minsk on June 16, they were told that no visa was required. But when they were leaving the city for home, officials detained them and demanded a US$600 (S$830) fine.

When the officials realised that the brothers had no money, they waived the fine and told them to get their own air tickets home. But they had already missed their flight due to the mix-up.

Powerlifting Singapore clarified that the paperwork for the athletes' visas on arrival was in order, but not awarded by the immigration officer upon arrival due to a misunderstanding about the athletes' length of stay.

A visa is not required for a stay of five days or less. 

 

"Having worked 10-hour shifts at a Korean eatery and saving their allowances just to be able to make this trip to Belarus to compete, there was no way they could afford this. They had already spent SGD5,500 for this chance to win the World Record," Ms Loo wrote.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spoke to the airline, Lufthansa, which agreed to lower the fare from €949 (S$1,470) each to €603 (S$935) for both of them.

Matthew and Marcus are now waiting for a flight back on Friday, Ms Loo told The Straits Times.

“The next flight out is later today, in just a few hours, but the flight tickets cost an extra €1,000 (S$1,550) per person, and the boys say they cannot in good conscience allow public donations to pay for such expensive tickets,” she said.

Besides donations, they also received messages of encouragement from the public and “one Singaporean in Mainz has offered to make a 30min drive to Frankfurt to see the boys during their transit, and take them out for a good hot meal”, she said.

However, the brothers will not be leaving the airport transit area as they were told that they may face more problems if they leave the airport. “They have access to food and water, but it is going to be very, very uncomfortable for the next 30plus hours,” she added.

As Powerlifting Singapore is not a national sport association, there is no funding to send athletes overseas, Ms Loo said.

"We have learned much from this episode and will continue to work with meet organisers in the future to ensure that such issues do not distract our athletes from pursuing their goals and dreams," said Mr Tan Say Yong, vice-president of Powerlifting Singapore.

"It has been heartening to see the local community support Matthew and Marcus, given that they have done us proud and put Singapore on the powerlifting map! At this point, we are looking forward to their safe return."

The crowdfunding campaign ended after raising $2,685  by Thursday morning.

In an update on his Facebook page on Thursday, Matthew wrote: "An update: We have reached our targeted goal. Marcus & I are lost for words. So thankful for the concern and support everyone has shown."