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Jaristotle's Jottings | ‘Visa-nansi-ism’ in sports

Published:Thursday | August 1, 2019 | 12:00 AM

A CNN report carried on July 26 indicated that some nine members of the Guatemalan under-15 soccer team were denied visas to the USA where they were slated to participate in the CONCACAF Boys Under-15 Championship. The net result of this visa denial decision is that if Guatemala does participate in the competition, they will have to do so at a “disadvantage by the terms of fair play”.

The question is whether the USA is preventing the players from participating so as to improve their chances in the competition, as against an exercise of their rights of denial based on legitimate concerns.

The competition in question is open to qualifying national teams from North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The CONCACAF member countries from Central America and the Caribbean do not have the luxury of resources that the North American members do, and many would find it difficult to host competitions to the same ‘standard’ as their northern counterparts.

Notwithstanding that each member country is entitled to have fair opportunity to host competitions, it is understandable that CONCACAF, like any other regional sport governing body, would be inclined to award the hosting of competitions to the more resourced and able member countries.

Alas, both the USA and Canada have rigid visa requirements which, given the international security environment, they would be foolhardy not to so do. The fact is, however, that when awarded hosting rights for an international competition, restrictions on players and teams arguably run contrary to the spirit of sportsmanship and fair play.

Now, consider that many of the star soccer players of the Central American and Caribbean member countries are from crime-ridden areas of their respective countries and may have relatives who are involved in criminal activities. Does that necessarily make the players themselves persons of risk, and does that justify the visa denial decisions of the USA?

For what it is worth, many American star athletes come from ‘the hood’: despite successful careers, many typify the Jamaican saying, ‘yuh can tek di man outa di bush, but yuh caan tek di bush outa di man’. Why then should other countries not deny such ‘hoods’ when they seek entry to participate in sporting activities?

The USA should remember that each member country has the right to refuse any non-national entry to their country, and Central American and Caribbean member countries may just exercise that prerogative. If they have the cojones, that is.

No doubt such actions would not go down well with the Americans, or the Canadians for that matter. Notwithstanding, it hardly seems fair that some member countries are always facing this imposed disadvantage, while the ‘visa-nansi’ northerners have a seeming right of free passage.

Perhaps it is high time for the balance of power to be tested, especially to see how CONCACAF and other governing bodies would react.

Where to?

I assume that there are multinational agreements in place which speak to travel arrangements and visa requirements for athletes who have been selected to represent their countries. Surely, the various international sport governing bodies, and their regional sub-bodies, should insist on facilitation agreements and allowances for athletes. After all, each country wants to have the best representation possible, and unless there are more guarantees where this is concerned, ‘visa-nansi’ countries like the USA will inevitably be at an advantage in the absence of fair play, whether real or imagined.

Regardless of facilitatory initiatives that may come into being, however, participating member countries have a responsibility to ensure that their national representatives are conditioned to uphold the tenets of their respective countries and to respect and abide by the laws of their host countries.

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