Last week at the Swiss headquarters, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin declared that Trump’s Travel Ban could be a problem, and that any ban that might restrict players or journalists would be counted against the United States, who were considered the favorites in a bid to land 2026 FIFA World Cup.
“If players cannot come because of political decisions, or populist decisions, then the World Cup cannot be played there. It is true for the United States, but also for all the other countries that would like to organize a World Cup,” Cerefin said.
The reality is that the current administration’s policies have already come in between athletes and sport.
The visas of a women’s soccer team from Tibet made up of 18 to 20-year-old women who were invited to play in the annual Dallas Cup were denied. The players would have been hosted by families in the area.
Many of the players felt the invitation to Dallas was “a dream come true”. The tournament organizers had organized a series of training sessions and events for the participants. After taking time off from school and their jobs, it cost the team almost half its’ annual budget - plus travel expenses - just to apply.
Cassie Childers, an American who coaches the team, said the experience has left her angered.
“They weren’t trying to immigrate,” Childers said. “They were trying to play soccer.”
In addition to the soccer team, families of athletes have also been denied visas to watch competitions or tournaments. Notable MMA fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov's father, Abdulmanap, was also denied a visa in order to watch his son fight Tony Ferguson in UFC 209 in Las Vegas.
Nurmagomedov is a Muslim from Russia and not, in fact, from one of the seven countries initially listed on Trump’s Muslim ban.
The effects of these racist and exclusionary policies are clear: Muslim athletes will not be the only ones be rejected and burdened - many athletes from all sports will be affected as well.
High levels of xenophobia render the USA a less-than-welcoming venue for mega events or international tournaments that are supposed to be inclusive for all athletes - regardless of religion or race.
The results will also have a direct impact on the USA’s 2024 Olympic bid. The host city is to be announced by the International Olympics Committee (IOC) next fall. Los Angeles is considered a front-runner to beat out Budapest and Paris - with support from Trump. But the reality is that if Trump’s own immigration bans restrict a number of countries, that is antithetical to the Olympic Charter which calls for competition in the spirit of camaraderie and “without discrimination of any kind”. This past summer, we saw Team Refugee make it’s debut at the Olympic Games. Would Trump reject all of them too?
FIFA and the IOC are not the only federations to worry about travel restrictions and the effect on their sport. The USA Wrestling Association looked like they might to be in a conundrum after Iran banned Americans from entering the country in what some consider retaliation for Trump’s Travel Ban. This would include athletes attending an international wrestling tournament in Kermanshah. Fortunately Iran’s Wrestling federation intervened for the USA and the American athletes were granted permission to attend the tournament.
The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association is the sports governing body and it posted a tweet immediately following Trump’s Muslim ban announcement.
Major tournaments are usually held in the United States but Derby has expanded worldwide. There are definitely players from the countries listed in the Travel Ban and even players who have sought asylum in Europe as refugees. It is conceivable that they would have tremendous difficulty traveling to the USA, something their team would not accept.
The Gothenberg Roller Derby squad in Sweden posted a Facebook message that they would not be attending a popular event if their Muslim teammates would face difficulty or discrimination.
“We had planned on participating in the tournament Coastal Chaos in Maine this summer, but if some of our players cannot participate because of racist regulations, the team will not partake in the event. We stand together as a team, always.”
I wonder how many other sports federations and associations will have to go beyond simple advocacy of their athletes and request permission to attend events or skip them altogether.
It is mind-boggling that sports associations and clubs must go through this. But it leaves one to wonder how many countries will be fed up with processes that humiliate and restrict their innocent citizens so they start banning Americans - which would include athletes.
The stress of competition is draining for athletes- but to have to worry about being allowed to even enter a country to engage in sport is a different level of absurdity and stress placed upon sportspeople and teams.
Sports are a sacred place of sanctuary and of inclusion. But in the USA, perhaps only for those who are able to access them.