Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Sports

Trump's ban could have a big impact on sports

President Donald Trump's ban on visitors from seven Muslim nations could have a wide impact on international sports, including jeopardizing a warm relationship between the United States and Iran in wrestling competitions and threatening the chances of Los Angeles hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics and of the United States securing soccer's 2026 World Cup.

On Saturday, sports officials struggled to understand the implications of Trump's executive order, including the question of whether athletes from the prohibited nations could enter the United States to compete, especially in the initial 90-day period of the ban.

"We are working closely with the administration to understand the new rules and how we best navigate them as it pertains to visiting athletes," Patrick Sandusky, a spokesman for the U.S. Olympic Committee, said in an email. "We know they are supportive of the Olympic movement and our bid, and believe we will have a good working relationship with them to ensure our success in hosting and attending events."

At least one International Olympic Committee delegate criticized Trump's decision. The delegate, Richard Peterkin of St. Lucia, wrote on Twitter that the executive order on immigration "is totally contrary to Olympic ideals."

"For him, collective responsibility trumps individual justice," Peterkin wrote.

The most immediate effect may come in wrestling, given that one of the nations affected by Trump's ban is Iran, which has long had a congenial relationship with the United States in that sport. Iran said Saturday that it would stop U.S. citizens from entering the country, in retaliation for Trump's order.

The U.S. freestyle wrestling team is scheduled to participate in a World Cup competition in Iran on Feb. 8. Steve Fraser, the chief fundraiser for USA Wrestling and a 1984 Greco-Roman Olympic champion, said Saturday that the president of Iran's wrestling federation was scheduled to meet this weekend with government officials there in an attempt to make sure the Americans would still be invited to the meet.

"There's some nervousness by us that the Iranian government might say, 'We can't get visas to go there, so no Americans can come here, either,'" Fraser said.

While Olympic boycotts have resulted from tense political differences between nations, opposing countries have also long found common ground on playing fields, on the track and in sports arenas. One of the most celebrated examples is the Ping-Pong diplomacy that helped open the relationship between the United States and China in the 1970s.

In wrestling, the United States, Iran, Cuba and Russia banded together in 2013 to persuade the IOC to keep the sport in the Summer Games. American wrestlers and officials are warmly welcomed in Iran, and Iranian wrestlers compete regularly in the United States. They may be invited to meets in May in New York and in June in Los Angeles, Fraser said. There is uncertainty now, however, about whether they would be granted P1 visas, commonly known as sports visas, to compete.

Christina Kelley, chief international ambassador for USA Wrestling who in 2014 became one of the few women allowed into a wrestling arena in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, said Saturday that she was frustrated by Trump's decision.

"I don't think our current president has any clue what the State Department and what sports diplomats and cultural exchanges do for our country and for the safety of our people around the world," Kelley said.

The ban on visitors from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen comes at a delicate time for the U.S. Olympic Committee. Los Angeles is seeking to host the 2024 Summer Games, and it will learn in September whether it, Paris or Budapest will get the Games.

(There is some speculation that the IOC will award the 2024 Games to Paris and the 2028 Games to Los Angeles, but the USOC remains committed to the 2024 Games.)

David Wallechinsky, an American member of the IOC's cultural and heritage commission and president of the International Society of Olympic Historians, said the election of Trump in November hurt Los Angeles's bid with IOC delegates because Trump is perceived as being "anti-Muslin, anti-woman and anti-Latino."

"This is worse," Wallechinsky said of the Muslim ban, adding that "I would consider it a blow to the Los Angeles bid, not fatal, but a blow."

At a meeting at the Lausanne, Switzerland, headquarters of the IOC several days after the U.S. presidential election, Wallechinsky said he was asked repeatedly, "What is wrong with your country?"

He said he sought to assure IOC officials by explaining that three-quarters of the voters in Los Angeles voted against Trump, describing the city to them as "a multicultural, Trump-free zone."

The United States is expected to bid to host the world's other major sporting event, the World Cup, in 2026. In June, Sunil Gulati, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, told reporters that a Trump presidency could complicate a U.S. bid, especially if it were a joint bid with Mexico, given Trump's plans to build a wall across American's southern border.

"I think a co-hosted World Cup with Mexico would be trickier if Secretary Clinton isn't in the White House," Gulati said at the time, in a reference to Hillary Clinton, who lost the election to Trump.

After Trump won the election, Gulati modified his remarks, saying, "It's not going to dissuade us or persuade us to bid." International perceptions of the Trump administration "matter, for sure," Gulati said, "but I think those will be developed in the months to come."

Gulati and U.S. Soccer, reached by telephone, declined to comment Saturday.

Many questions remained unanswered about the ability to travel for a number of athletes. Two NBA players, Thon Maker and Luol Deng, were born in Sudan, one of the seven countries listed in Trump's executive order.

Maker's family fled his home country when he was 5 and eventually settled in Australia. Maker, who plays for the Milwaukee Bucks, moved to the United States to play high school basketball in Louisiana, eventually moved to Canada, and is an Australian citizen who holds a passport from that country.

Deng, a forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, has lived in the United States for 17 years. His family fled to Egypt when he was 5 to escape the Sudanese civil war. Deng came to the United States when he was 14 and attended high school in New Jersey.

The NBA also holds an annual Basketball Without Borders camp, and it is expected to be held in New Orleans during All-Star weekend in February. While rosters have not been released, last year's camp involved players from 25 countries, including Amir Reza Shah-Ravesh from Iran.

Major League Soccer has two U.S.-born players with familial ties to two of the nations facing bans. Steve Beitashour of Toronto has played for Iran's national team, and Justin Meram of Columbus has played for Iraq. League officials were looking into the matter on Saturday.

Mo Farah of Britain, who was born in Somalia and has won four Olympic gold medals on the track at 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters, is a Nike-sponsored athlete coached by Alberto Salazar. It remains unclear whether Farah would be allowed into the United States to train or compete. Salazar did not immediately respond to an email Saturday.

"We clearly need to understand the implications of this new U.S. immigration policy and will be seeking assurances that it will not adversely affect" track and field's world championships, scheduled to be held in Eugene, Oregon, in 2021, said Jackie Brock-Doyle, a spokeswoman for the sport's world governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Phil Andrews, chief executive of USA Weightlifting, said officials were trying to figure out the impact of Trump's ban on the world weightlifting championships, scheduled for November in Anaheim, Calif., and on the U.S. team's participation at a competition in Iran.

"Our view is that politics and sport should be separate," Andrews said, stressing sports diplomacy among nations. "We sincerely hope to peacefully welcome these seven nations to Anaheim this November. It is unimaginable to be able to host a true world event without their participation."

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