Crowdfunding helps bring Singapore powerlifter Matthew Yap home after visa issues

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SINGAPORE: The Republic Polytechnic student who made waves in the powerlifting arena after setting a new squat world record in the under-66kg sub-junior category over the weekend is currently laid over in Minsk, Belarus, due to “some visa mix-ups”.

Matthew Yap, together with his brother and coach Marcus Yap, missed their flight back to Singapore as a result and had to rebook their flights, according to Powerlifting Singapore’s Facebook post at 1.02am on Thursday (Jun 22).

It also set up a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds needed for the two brothers to rebook their flights after the delay. In the post on GIVE.Asia, Daphne Loo, the media officer for Powerlifting Singapore, said Matthew and Marcus were told they did not need to apply for visas on arrival but officials there demanded they pay a US$600 fine when they tried to leave the country. 

Both of them flew into Belarus for the World Classic Powerlifting Championships.

“They were detained, questioned and it was a very traumatic experience,” according to the post on the crowdfunding platform, which added that the officials waived the fine after realising the Yap brothers “had no money” and “asked them to get their own air tickets home”. 

Powerlifting Singapore’s Matthew Yap (left) and Marcus Yap (right) being detained in Minsk before their flight back to Singapore. (Photo: Matthew Yap)

“We knew all along that we required a visa above five days of being in Belarus. Upon arrival, they allowed us through the customs without a visa,” 17-year-old Yap told Channel NewsAsia.

“When we arrived at the airport for departure, however, they told us that our stay counted as six days and thus required a visa.”

The Republic Polytechnic student added: “Their officers then led us to a room and told us that they will issue a fine and visas for US$600. So, we opted for deportation so that we did not need to pay for the fine and issue of visa.”                   

He said the Belarusian officials let them off after the brothers explained their situation. “We told them that we do not have money. The officials then said: ‘It’s okay, we’ll waive the penalty but you must pay for your own ticket back.'”

When they checked with their airline, Lufthansa, they found out that their tickets would cost €949 (S$1,470) each, which they were unable to afford. 

Said Yap: “I had to work at a 10-hour shift at a local Korean cafe during my holidays for two-and-a-half months while training for this trip and as for Marcus, he used up all of his savings.”

The return fare was eventually reduced to €603 for the brothers to rebook their flights to Frankfurt, Germany, then back to Singapore, according to Powerlifting Singapore.

They will arrive in Singapore at 4.15pm on Jun 24, Loo told Channel NewsAsia. 

Marcus Yap (left) resting at the airport in Minsk with brother Matthew (right), after resolving their flight issues back to Singapore. (Photo: Matthew Yap)

When Channel NewsAsia visited the crowdfunding page, it showed that the campaign had closed after raising S$2,685.

Powerlifting Singapore said in an update at 2.10am that the fundraising goal was reached and that it would provide more details soon. 

“WE DEFINITELY DIDN’T EXPECT THIS”

Coming from a low-income family, raising the money on their own for the trip came with sacrifices. “We try our best not to burden our parents by this hobby of ours as they are already struggling to make ends meet,” said Yap.

“Gaining their (emotional) support alone is enough. Even so, they still blessed us with a little money to spend.”

The Yap brothers taking turns to rest at the Minsk airport as they await their flight home. (Photo: Matthew Yap)

Knowing the Yap siblings’ financial situation, Powerlifting Singapore’s Loo sprung into action on Facebook to help them pay for their return ticket. “I launched the (crowdfunding post) at around 1am, and immediately donations started coming in.”

“It first hit S$200, and then suddenly it became S$2,200,” said the media officer.

She added: “As an association that is not a recognised National Sports Association, we didn’t think people would respond this way. Powerlifting is growing in Singapore, but it still hasn’t become so popular that everyone knows what it is.”

“Our athletes receive recognition but before Matthew’s world record, it was limited. So we definitely didn’t expect this.”

The brothers’ plight even attracted the attention of a Singaporean living abroad in Germany, according to Loo.

“We have even received a message from a Singaporean man in Mainz, 30 mins out from Frankfurt,” she said. “(He offered) to visit the boys at the airport and bring them for a hot meal, when they arrive in Frankfurt.”

She added: “All the different kinds of help and messages that people have been sending means so much to us.”

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