President Donald Trump’s executive order that bans entry into the United States from seven majority Muslim countries — Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Syria — for 90 days has produced concern in the sports world. The order’s specific provisions, the language in it and its legal basis raise questions and issues for international athletes, sports entities and sports leagues:
Q: How does the order affect sports?
A: It 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.
As for sporting events, a lot remains to be determined. There was talk from Iranian officials of a retaliatory ban on American athletes for the men’s freestyle World Cup wrestling championships scheduled for western Iran in February. But on Monday, USA Wrestling said it had received visas to travel there and was going to compete in the event.
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.
Q: Will the order affect American athletes who compete outside the United States?
A: Yes. Two Americans playing in Iran’s top pro basketball league already have been denied re-entry into Iran as authorities in that country retaliate. J.P. Prince and Joseph Jones are stranded in Dubai.
A: Maker and Deng were born in what is now South Sudan, a country that is not named in the Trump seven, but at the time of their birth South Sudan was still part of Sudan. More importantly as it relates to the order, Maker is a citizen of Australia and Deng is a citizen of Great Britain.
There has been confusion over whether dual passport-holders would be affected by the order, but the latest guidance from the federal government appears to clear them for travel. After a game against the Raptors, Maker returned to America from Toronto without any difficulty. Some companies, such as Google, though, have advised their dual-nationality employees not to leave the country until greater clarity can be provided.
Q: Is there a way to change the order to include a provision for travel by international athletes?
A: Yes. There is a simple and effective way to insulate the world of sports. 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.
Q: Will Trump’s action affect American bids for the Olympics in 2024 and the soccer World Cup in 2026?
A: It’s possible. The International Olympic Committee will select the 2024 host city in September. Trump has been supportive of the effort to bring the Games to Los Angeles, but 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. FIFA officials also have had concerns about Trump, so organizers of the 2026 World Cup likely will need to distance themselves from him if they are to succeed.