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Proper protocol needed for sports teams for US visas – Rugby Union Head

Proper protocol needed for sports teams for US visas – Rugby Union Head

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The president of the SVG Rugby Union is hoping to see protocol laid out explicitly in future for sports teams travelling to countries like the United States (US) that have strict visa requirements.

This comes after the national rugby team was unable to participate in an Olympic qualifying tournament – the annual North American Caribbean Rugby Association seven-a-side competition – after a month-long fiasco attempting to obtain US visas.{{more}}

Sophie Goddard, president of the SVG Rugby Union, described the fiasco as “discouraging” for the players because they had been training diligently for this event, and it was the last major tournament for the year.

“We’ve lost out from every angle,” Goddard asserted. “It was an international tournament; it was of very high standards and they would have been playing against the big teams such as USA, Canada, Mexico… it’s a shame they didn’t get to travel or experience it.

“They are doing remarkably well though… a lot of the other islands didn’t even attempt to go because of the expense and the visa issue. Obviously they are really disappointed, but they came together as a team and were watching the game on Saturday.”

When the 12-member rugby squad initially travelled to the US Embassy in Barbados on May 12 to apply for visas, they were initially given a ‘soft’ denial. This meant that they could reapply at any time.

Goddard explained: “What we then did was just get a lot more supporting documents. On the website, it’s not very clear what you need to apply. There are the obvious things like a bank statement or a job letter… but it doesn’t really specify exactly what you need from a sporting point of view.”

The local National Olympic Committee and the US Olympic Committee contacted the US Embassy on their behalf, as well as input from the regional and world governing bodies.

Following this, the US Embassy said that the team could come to reapply the week before the tournament, which it did on June 10. The visas were granted, and the team was told to come back the following morning to have the visas processed. However, when they returned, they were informed that the system was down – which ended up lasting for three days.

The US Olympic committee then put in a request with US Border Control for the players to be granted entry, seeing as the visas had been given the green light, but it was just the paperwork that was lacking.

“On the 12th they were in Barbados waiting to hear if they were going to get this waiver. So they were either going to get on a red eye flight to the States or come back to St Vincent… right up until 7 o’ clock at night we still hadn’t heard back that they were granted, and the flight was leaving at 8.”

By the time a positive response came through, it was 7:30 p.m., and the flight had already closed check-in.

“We didn’t have any choice but to come back to St Vincent.”

“It was a really expensive trip for the club. We’re a really small unit, and most of our income, we get sponsorship from the National Olympic Committee and we have to do a lot of fund-raisers. It’s a lot of money that we wasted trying to get visas.”

Goddard pointed out that a lot of the team members are under 25, which may have been a major factor in the first denial.

She explained that the US Embassy requires proof that you intend to return to St Vincent, and aren’t likely to try to stay in the US beyond your allocated time. The fact that many of the team members are young and have no dependents (and some, no bank accounts) may have worked against them.

She said that the team will be cautious about which tournaments they take part in in future – especially if they require travel to the States.

The SVG Rugby Union was established in 1998, then received a revamp in 2013 when a new executive was elected. It also has a programme targeting schools to encourage the youth to get involved in the game.

In total, there are four rugby clubs throughout SVG, and also an Under-19 team – which is currently looking to recruit new members. (JSV)

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