Almost immediately after swearing-in as president, Donald Trump issued an executive order. The order, banning entry into the United States from seven majority Muslim countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — is creating challenges for athletes, teams and leagues.
The ban’s future — and, indeed, constitutionality — remain in question after a federal judge halted the travel ban on Feb. 3 and the Department of Homeland Security subsequently suspended all actions to implement the immigration order.
Nevertheless, the sports world is on alert — and on edge — as the in-limbo nature of the ban makes travel planning difficult. According to Lester Munson, a legal analyst for ESPN.com:
[The ban] could disrupt individual careers and scheduled events. Athletes traveling on passports from the seven countries face difficulties in international travel during the ban period. And although the order allows admission into the U.S. for citizens from these countries when “denying admission would cause undue hardship,” any entry into the U.S. could be problematic. To prove the “hardship” exemption, sports agents and lawyers for athletes would have to challenge legal authorities on an issue that is without precedent in immigration law.
Though Trump’s order is limited to 90 days — except for an indefinite ban on Syrian refugees — it includes a directive to the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security for each to conduct a series of studies that extend for 200 days. The studies, which include analysis of the backgrounds and religious beliefs of people seeking entry to the U.S. from the seven countries, could easily be a basis for additional White House actions. Given this, it’s hard to say what effect the order might have on U.S.-based events that will occur after the 90-day period. Events like the Boston and New York City marathons, for example, feature runners from across the globe, including Iran, Syria and Sudan.
Here are three stories from the world of sports that developed in the initial wake of the ban:
Two NBA players, Luol Deng of the Los Angeles Lakers and Thon Maker of the Milwaukee Bucks, are from South Sudan, which became an independent country in 2011. But that country was still part of Sudan when both players were born. The NBA is seeking clarity regarding travel when Deng and Maker leave the United States to play teams like the Toronto Raptors. Maker was boarding the Bucks’ team flight home from a game in Toronto when the ban took effect but returned to Milwaukee without incident. Additionally, two U.S.-born basketball players competing professionally overseas were stranded in Dubai after Iranian officials issued a retaliatory ban on U.S. citizens entering their country.
USA Wrestling initially moved ahead with plans to compete in the men’s freestyle World Cup in Iran on Feb. 16-17. Rich Bender, USA Wrestling’s executive director, told The New York Times that Team USA “had been given assurances from Iran that special attention was being given to the athletes’ applications.” He added that politics have no place in sports, saying “it’s about competition, not politics.” A few days later, Iran banned U.S. wrestlers in retaliation for Trump’s ban.
The U.S. Olympic Committee reports that the ban should not impact athletes traveling to the United States for international competition. A statement from the federal government assured USOC leaders that athletes from all countries will have expedited access to United States. Even if that’s the case, what will the ban do to U.S. efforts to bring the Olympics Games to Los Angeles in 2024? Munson says Trump has been supportive of those efforts but adds “there were pre-election concerns from some in the international community and from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti about a Trump presidency. The executive order won’t help things.” Earlier this week, Trump noted he "didn't know" if the order would affect the LA2024 bid.
All that said, Munson outlined a way sports could become insulated from the ban:
The order already includes exemptions for citizens of the seven countries who have G-1, G-2, G-3 and G-4 visas. These visas are issued to diplomats, government officials and employees of international organizations with business in America. If, for example, a NATO officer is traveling to the United States, the officer would use a G-series visa. Anyone with one of these visas is free to enter the U.S., even under the executive order.
American immigration law also provides for a P-1 visa, a ticket into the U.S. for any athlete or team that performs “at an internationally recognized level.” It’s the visa that most professional athletes use. It can be valid for five years; the procedure for obtaining this visa is well-established and easy to follow. It allows the athlete or the team to use past performances, rankings, news coverage and other evidence to show that they are performing at the proper level. If Trump were to add the P-1 visa to the list of exemptions in his executive order, the order’s effects on sports would be minimized.
How do you feel about Trump’s travel ban and the role his administration will play in overall sports travel? Make your voice heard in this month’s Sports Destination Management poll: “How do you think the new administration will affect the business of sports travel?”
Early results indicate a strong percentage of readers predicting it will be “detrimental to sports travel overall.”