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July 29, 2011

Ugandan Baseball Team Strikes Out on US Visas

by Jeff Seldin

It could have been one of the inspiring and heartwarming stories that make sports so endearing. Instead, the fate of a youth baseball team from Africa is mired in controversy.

The baseball team from Kampala, Uganda, was set to become the first African squad to come to the United States and compete in the Little League World Series. Instead, the players have been called out before ever taking the field.

Little League Baseball Vice President of Operations Patrick Wilson said it was a U.S. State Department decision.

“We were notified today [Friday] that the team would not be issued a visa to travel to the United States,” said Wilson.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the decision is unfortunate.

“I can assure you that Consular officers examined each of these individuals and accorded them every consideration under the law. You know, this is a very difficult situation,” he said.

Toner would not go into specifics about any individual case, but said the decision was made after the players went through the interview process.

“They look at all appropriate data - place of birth, date of birth, etcetera, and take all that into consideration,” he said.

Little League officials say the State Department told them the visas were denied because of discrepancies on the applications. And a State Department official told reporters there were questions about the ages of the players.  

To participate players must be 11 or 12 years old. Little League Baseball’s Patrick Wilson said documents submitted by Uganda’s Reverend John Foundation Little League appeared to be in order.

“It’s an unfortunate occurrence that the team was denied their visas. We’re going to take a couple of steps back and evaluate what happens next,” said Wilson.

Each year, eight teams from the United States and another eight from around the world come to South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the Little League World Series.

This year's tournament is set to start August 18, possibly one team short.