As multiple leagues mull plans to return to play in the United States amid the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, some of the many logistical issues involving that return are starting to be realized. Baseball needs to settle a considerable disagreement between its owners and players union, while the NBA needs to negotiate with the Mouse House about a potential Bubble League restart.
We now know that at least one of those potential issues leagues may have in restarting is now solved. According to the U.S. government’s Department of Homeland Security, athletes returning stateside to play will not be barred by existing immigration and travel restrictions that have been enacted in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to CNN, which reported on the order on Saturday, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security signed an order insuring that professional athletes will not be barred from travel to the United States in order to resume their careers as leagues restart.
“Professional sporting events provide much needed economic benefits, but equally important, they provide community pride and national unity,” said Acting Secretary Wolf. “In today’s environment, Americans need their sports. It’s time to reopen the economy and it’s time we get our professional athletes back to work.”
The order apparently applies to the following organizations:
Major League Baseball
National Basketball Association
Women’s National Basketball Association
Professional Golfers’ Association Tour
Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour
National Hockey League
Association of Tennis Professionals
Women’s Tennis Association
And for those leagues trying to resume operations this summer, it’s a legitimate hurdle they now no longer have to overcome. As leagues abruptly shut down, many international athletes left the United States and returned to the comforts of home and, possibly, locations that were less impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. But subsequent travel restrictions made the logistics of safely getting players and staff to various places in an attempt to restart leagues much harder in recent weeks.
Other leagues have encountered issues with keeping staff in the United States as well. Some teams, like the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, have actually sued immigration officials to prevent a strength and conditioning coach from being deported amid the COVID-19 shutdown. It’s unclear if situations like that are solved with these exemptions, but we do know that athletes who have left the United States to wait out the pandemic shouldn’t have many issues returning if and when practices and games resume.