The State Department is dedicated to helping keep the United States safe by taking care of its interests abroad. In the final days of July, it stepped forward to stop a hallmark moment in Little League history, and possibly prevented an age controversy in the process.
According to the Associated Press, the first African team scheduled to compete in the Little League World Series was thwarted when it failed to have its visas approved for entrance into the United States. The issue behind the rejection of an unknown number of players from the Reverend John Foundation squad from Kampala, Uganda, according to a State Department official, is that several players provided false birth documents to make their ages appear younger. The AP reports that there is no age requirement for a U.S. visa, but lying or providing incorrect or misleading information on a visa application is grounds for denial.
It should also be noted that children who are 11 or 12 as of April 30 are eligible to play in the World Series.
The absence of the Ugandan team will mark the first time that a team which qualified for the World Series won't make the trip since 1959, when a West German squad comprised of the children of U.S. military members stationed overseas were unable to travel to Pennsylvania because of their coaches' military commitments.
"It is unfortunate, as we were very much looking forward to welcoming the first African team to the Little League Baseball World Series," Stephen D. Keener, president and chief executive officer of Little League Baseball and Softball, said in an official statement to the media. "However, we have worked very closely with our State Department in recent years, and we very much appreciate their diligence in this matter.
"At this point, we are going to have to take a few days to evaluate all of our options, and decide how best to move forward as we prepare for the World Series next month."
The Reverend John team had qualified as the Middle East-Africa champions by defeating a team from Dharan, Saudi Arabia, 6-4, in an inter-regional playoff game in July. That victory earned the Kampala-based squad a spot in the annual Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., which begins Aug. 18.
The trip was to be a hallmark moment for both the African team and the organization which it represents, fronted by a New York-based league representative named Richard Stanley, a retired chemical engineer who is officially listed as an officer by the Uganda Little League Baseball Association.
Stanley has reportedly invested some $1.5 million in grassroots baseball efforts in Uganda in recent years, and the Reverend John team's appearance at the World Series could have provided a welcome publicity boost with which his organization could have raised more funds.
Now, it appears that he and other Ugandan officials will have to dramatically increase oversight if they hope to have future teams reach the hallowed Williamsport fields in the future. Yet Stanley told the AP that enforcing age limits in Uganda was a far different prospect than doing so in the United States because of the general lack of formal documentation.
"Now when the parent comes in, they get asked, 'What's the birth date of your child? Are you the birth parent?' They don't even know what that means in some cases, so they can't answer the question," said Stanley. [...]
"So now it's a question of credibility. All you need is one person to not be credible and the visa officer is not obligated to issue a visa," Stanley added, "and if they don't issue one visa, they're not going to issue any visa."