STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - A youth baseball team from Uganda that would have been the first squad from Africa to play at the Little League World Series has been denied visas to enter the United States.
The U.S. Department of State declined to give a reason for the decision, other than to say that the team’s documentation “contained discrepancies,” officials at Little League headquarters in South Williamsport, Pa., said Friday in a statement.
“It is unfortunate, as we were very much looking forward to welcoming the first African team to the Little League Baseball World Series,” league president Stephen Keener said. “However, we have worked very closely with our State Department in recent years, and we very much appreciate their diligence in this matter.”
“We knew their documents were under review … but it’s been a couple days of back and forth” before the decision was confirmed Friday, Wilson told The Associated Press in a phone interview. Wilson said the decision was considered final.
The Rev. John Foundation Little League team from Kampala won the Middle East and Africa region tournament, which was played in Poland, with a 6-4 win July 16 over the Arabian American Little League team from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
It was the first time in the 65-year history of the World Series that a team from Africa had advanced that far.
The World Series is for children ages 11 to 13. The Saudi Arabian team had been a mainstay, qualifying 17 times since 1991.
That squad was comprised primarily of children of U.S. citizens who worked overseas. In contrast, the Ugandan team was made up of children who lived in villages outside Kampala and attended the foundation-based school.
The first local Little League in Uganda was chartered in 2005, while the Rev. John Foundation team played its first regional tournament in 2008.
Little League now must now decide how to proceed with the World Series, which begins Aug. 18 in South Williamsport and ends Aug. 28.
Wilson said tournament organizers would meet in the next few days in hopes of making a decision within a week. Sixteen teams qualify for the World Series, eight in the U.S. bracket and eight from the international bracket.
“Ideally, we’d like to have a 16-team field,” Wilson said.
According to Little League officials, the last time a team that qualified could not make the trip was 1959, when a squad from then-West Germany composed of dependents of U.S. Army personnel didn’t have enough money to travel. At the time, just eight teams qualified for the tournament, and the 1959 series was played with just seven squads.
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