- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

Citing the war in Iraq, China is refusing to issue Washington midfielder Bai Jie a travel visa so she can play for the Freedom this season.
Bai, 31, is enlisted in China's army, which has forbidden members to travel to the United States or Iraq because of the war. She missed the Freedom's first two games and appears likely to miss the entire season unless the Chinese army changes its policy.
"It's not looking very promising," Freedom coach Jim Gabarra said. "We've started the process of looking for another option if she can't come."
The Freedom contacted the Chinese government Monday for a definitive answer on Bai's status, and the answer was no.
"That's the way it is," Gabarra said. "For them to change anything, it takes a long time. We're trying to find out if that is something that is subject to being overturned or it's just a policy. The longer it goes, the more difficult it becomes for us because she is missing games and will miss the [Womens World Cup]. It's going to get to the point [whether its] really worth having her back, because you can go get another player."
Pu Wei, the Freedom's other Chinese midfielder, was not released by the Chinese Soccer Federation to play for the Freedom this season and will be training all summer with the Chinese national team. China will play host to the Women's World Cup in late September and early October.
However, with the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome [SARS] epidemic sweeping China and southeast Asia, FIFA is considering moving the Women's World Cup, possibly to Australia, out of health concerns. Bai's denial of a visa is not related to the Women's World Cup.
"It's strictly an army issue because we've already dealt with Chinese Soccer and their national team in letting her go," Gabarra said. "We did all that work in the winter and the fall of last year. That's the hard part about it because we put so much effort into it and now the army says she can't travel to the U.S."
Bai is certainly a big loss for the Freedom. Arguably the fastest Freedom player, she is the club's third-leading career points producer (30) behind star Mia Hamm and forward Abby Wambach.
In the Freedom's first season two years ago, Bai tied for second on the club with 12 points (five goals and two assists). Last season she played most of the season with a bad knee yet still managed six goals and five assists.
Last July Bai scored the fastest two goals by the same player in club history when she delivered seven minutes apart in a 5-2 victory over the Carolina Courage.
The versatile, 5-foot-4 Bai can play almost every position. With the Chinese national team, she is a defender. With the Freedom, she has played both wide midfield positions and up top.

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