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Sports Events Can Expect Clashes with Travel Ban

1 Nov, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Sometimes, world news and sports travel collide. It happened in early October when an athlete from Iran was denied a travel visa for the World Weightlifting Championships, to be contested in Anaheim.

Since that time, USA Weightlifting, the host of the event, has confirmed the athlete has been successful with his re-application.

Phil Andrews, the chief executive of USA Weightlifting, told Inside The Games that the “high-profile” athlete, whose name the national governing body would not share, would compete after all. The Iran Weightlifting Federation had successfully re-applied on behalf of the athlete.

The question, of course, becomes this: how much of these types of problems can event organizers expect to see in the coming months? It was previously announced that citizens of eight countries, including Iran, would face new restrictions on entry to the U.S.  as of mid-October. The new rules would also affect the citizens of Chad, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen. USA Weightlifting said in March it would seek "to determine what impact" the original ban might have on the IWF World Championships. It previously left visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen unable to enter the U.S. Federal courts have continued to rule against the travel ban; an update is here.

The ongoing saga could have a negative impact on the potential to host international sports events in the U.S. and could also discourage international athletes from selecting those events on their competition schedule. According to SDM contributor and immigration law expert Michael Wildes of Wildes & Weinberg, P.A., this issue is something event organizers should be aware of, and prepared for.

“In light of the shift in this Administration’s immigration focus, we believe that the denial of the visas will become an increasingly prevalent issue for individuals who seek to enter the United States temporarily,” noted Wildes. “I am not familiar with the specifics of (the case of the Iranian athlete originally denied a visa to compete in the U.S.), but from reading media reports, it appears that he was initially denied a visa due to §214(b) of the Immigration & Nationality Act for failure to sufficiently demonstrate to the consular officer that he had “nonimmigrant intent,” or that he possessed sufficiently strong ties to his home country to ensure that he would leave the United States when the term of his admission ended.”

Wildes further notes that “while §214(b) denials have historically been one of the leading causes of visa denials, we have witnessed a significant increase in such denials in the past four months. As §214(b) denials are increasing, we would recommend that foreign nationals as well as the sponsors of such events in the United States consult with experienced immigration attorneys who can provide guidance on the types of evidence and documentation that can enable foreign nationals to establish nonimmigrant intent. In addition, sponsors of events who expect to draw international competitors should consult with an experienced immigration attorney at least six months in advance of the event in order to ensure that they have provided their foreign competitors with sufficient documentation (invitations, itineraries, etc.) that may aid in the visa application process.”

Anaheim had stepped in to replace Penang as hosts of the 2017 IWF World Championships in October after the Malaysian state encountered financial difficulties. This meant that for the first time in history, two successive editions of the event would be staged in the US after Houston in Texas hosted the 2015 competition. The Anaheim Convention Centre will be the venue for the Championships. 

The Championships had already seen a decreased field with the announcement that China, Russia and seven other leading nations would be kept out because of positive doping tests.

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